30 July 2008

I'm off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard...etc

Sitting in SkiPole airport on route to Australia for a three week holiday, off road biking in the outback with Gareth and some of his mates. Its going to be great. Its only really just sunk in that it is actually happening and I am pretty excited and just a bit nervous.

I have been riding bikes for 25 years, lots of miles all around europe but not a huge amount of off road stuff. I get the impression that these guys do this a lot and are pretty nifty, hopefully I won't be "the fat german at the back". We'll see how it goes anyway. I know for sure that the sceanary and the setting will be stunning and the riding good fun. I have always loved spending time in the desert and it will be a treat to sleep out under the southern sky again.

So 26 hours as a hostage to KLM and I arrive in Perth at midnight on Thursday. Don't think I'll be able to post too much after that but we shall see what happens...

The map below was provided by Gareth when I asked for some more info on where we were headed. Hmmm looks kinda empty, but I guess that is the point.

Gareth's very detailed map

29 July 2008

My cats are stupid...

The cats have a cat flap, which seems to be a bit of a novelty in Norway. On seeing it one Norwegian friend said "oh your cats have a fire escape, how cute!" Yes well...

Anyway there is a serious bruiser of a cat in the neighbourhood who has figured out the cat flap and comes in, creating trouble and eating all their food. Fatty Lola does have a go at him, but I have noticed its only when I am stood behind her. Otherwise she runs off. Flo - she is just skitty and shit scared of everything, because everything is bigger than her and bullies her, so maybe she is smart.

Anyway since I am going away I opted to import a special cat flap that operates off the micro-chip in their necks and only lets them in. Figured it was fitting for an evil lair to have a high tech cat flap haw haw haw!

Got the flap smuggled into the country from Jersey, via Bradford and Glasgow (long story) and installed it this evening.

Now its in the same place and looks pretty much the same as the previous one, attached to a little tunnel through the wall. The door is on the inside of the house rather than the outside and it clicks as the lock goes on and off. But apart from the its exactly the same, so the cats should have no problems, right? Wrong!

Lola wedges herself in the tunnel and bats the door until it locks itself again and Flo runs a mile at the click! Despite being pushed through it numerous times its all a bit too much for them!

Bless - well at least Katharine and Graham are there for a few days so hopefully they'll figure it out. I am not so sure though.

This is getting boring!

At least it is raining in New York!

That could have been me!

Interesting piece in the paper today about a 41 year old man who fell out of his boat and got run over - sound strangley familiar! This happened while they were towing a skier in the fjord right outside the lair on Monday night.

He is still in hospital with a mangled hand - Ow!

28 July 2008

Another great weekend - Yawn

Weather still stunning. Spent Friday night sitting on the terrace with Katharine and drinking far too much wine (about 2 bottles too much to be precise).

Pottered around on Saturday doing jobs and shopping, spent lots of money on the boat. The great thing about having a new toy is all the gadgets that get to buy to go with it, and boats are a whole new world! Saturday evening Ian and Ali and their offspring came around and we had a barbi and a very pleasant evening on the terrace.

Sunday went climbing to Lykøy with Scott, Katharine and Ceclie. It was very hot and mobbed by a bunch of tattooed Poles when we arrived but they soon left. The somewhat spectical, "I have lived in Liverpool for 10 years", part of me was convinced that they were going to rob all the stuff out of the car, but this is Norway and everyone is nice, even the visitors, so I was obviously and thankfully wrong. Did a load of routes and took a nice fall on a 6 which Scott dispatched effortlessly. I decided I was spent, my tips were trashed so he did another 3 routes, including a 7- to remind me how great it is to be young and fit!

Another barbi on sunday night and another evening on the terrace basking in the evening sun sipping beers and watching the world go by. Will this great weather ever end? Remind me that I said that after we have had 50 days of rain in November.

25 July 2008

Summer in Bergen

Had a fantastic week – just finished a big project in work and things have relaxed a lot. There are only 5 people in the office now. Lunch is like being on some TV reality show as the numbers decrease by the day! The weather has been really nice so we have been out playing every evening. Climbed most of the routes at Atlantis on Monday eve with Katharine and she managed to led her first route – good effort. Went kayaking down at Glesvær on Wednesday evening. Really lovely conditions, no wind and a beautiful sunset.

Last night went to Gjøkeredet with Scott, Jamie and Camilla. The crag was basking in the evening sun. Scott and I climbed a load of routes, trying to stay on the steep stuff, away from the slabs which were greasy in the heat. Ended up trying to solo a traverse over the water and predictably fell in. The water was lovely and the subsequent swim was a great way to cool off.

This is life in western Norway at its best.

Photos by Jamie - next time please try and make me a look a bit more heroic and a bit less fat - Ta! :-)

21 July 2008

Run over by my own boat!

After my visitors left the rest of last week was fairly mellow Come the weekend, the weather was not great and Katharine was back in the UK so I worked on some Tor and Håvard's theses on Saturday. Sunday, Leppard, Dan, Mark and Scott came around to play in the boat so we headed down to the southern part of Lille Sotra with the ring.

Everyone had a go and there were thrills and some spectacular spills. Leppard is the only person with a body mass so great that on the turns, with his extra momentum, he managed to overtake the boat! Scott on the other hand is so light that he was getting some big air off the wake. When I had my go Scott was driving which was fine, then Chris wanted to drive with Scott in the ring so he ended up at the controls. I was sat on the front.

We accelerated and I suggested to Chris that he slow down a little bit, he yanked back the throttle, the boat dropped off the plane like a stone and I went hurtling over the front! Classic comedy-moment. The boat was still running and heading forward so I was run over. I ducked and curled into a ball protecting myself as I heard the prop pass just over the top of my head. Everyone thought this was pretty funny and we carried on playing. For the rest of the afternoon, things got faster, the boys did a good job of hanging on to the ring and there were some long rides, some big air and some spectacular wipe-outs! It started raining as we headed back and I ended up driving with a diving mask and trying to tow Chris all the way back up the main shipping channel.

Later that night I was lying in bed and kept contemplating the damage that a prop could do to a person in the water! It was not a pleasant thought...

Note to self: hold on tighter when muppets are driving.

19 July 2008

Life in Norway V - Roller Skis

As a nation Norwegians are good at skiing. They learn it at an early age and they get to practice it most weekends between January and May. There is significant mockery of other nations attempts to ski (often justified) and a huge pride in their international achievements. When the biathlon (skiing and shooting) is on they crowd around any available TV and watch intently, cheering loudly. The love to ski and they love to watch it, that is fine.

Well at least its fine until we get to the subject of roller skis. Through the summer, on the cycle paths and walk ways people in ridiculous lyrca suits whizz past on short skis with little wheels on. For real, this is not a joke! Its fucked up, in fact its worse than that, it’s totally bizarre, its like those idiots who play golf in the snow, obsessive and just a little bit too spooky.

Guys its summer, there is no snow, you just look ridiculous. While the odd weekend of summe-ski on the glacier is a good thing, this is just ridiculous. Get over it and enjoy the sunshine, winter will be here soon enough!

17 July 2008

Helper and the Balanced Rock Incident

I have spent a lot of time in Utah, especially in the Book Cliffs region. I love the area, its got some stunning geology, it's very remote and has a unique rugged beauty. In the northern part of the area is a town called Helper. There is not much you can say about Helper except it’s a total shit hole. Back in the day it was a big railroad hub. The name is taken from the extra steam engines that used to help the coal trains up the steep grade over the Wasatch Plateau. After the advent of diesel trains that didn’t need a helping push, the town degenerated into a center of gambling and prostitution – which in Utah, especially during the 60’s and 70’s was very illegal and very popular. Apparently it was so corrupt that the local police just took their cut and let it go on. Eventually some out of town, incorruptible state troopers were drafted in to close down the fun and the party was over. The town then went into serious decline and has been going down ever since.

Above the town is a steep cliff about 400 m high with a narrow promontory. At the end of the promontory is a large block of sandstone, detached from the main cliff perching on some crumbling shale. The locals imaginatively called it Balanced Rock. In 1923 some adventurous souls climbed up on to the top of the rock and erected a flag pole and a flag. Ten years later after several flags had blown away, including a solid steel one, they went back up and put an empty barrel on the pole and filled it with rocks.

The barrel survived the winds and apart from the locals who took turns to shoot at it, nobody really noticed it was there. Then in 1996 some out of town climbers teamed up with a couple of local boys from Price, climbed the rock and replaced the barrel with a Welsh Flag. To say that this upset the locals, is like saying that George Bush is a bit of a dickhead – a monumental understatement! Boy these people were mad! Not much happens in Helper and this was probably the most exciting event since somebody got married to someone who wasn’t there first cousin. The Police were kept busy trying to stop the good-ole-boys getting their rifles out and taking pot shots at the climbers.

The day after the adventure, two of them returned to Wales. The local boys were quickly rumbled by the Police, there aren’t that many climbers in the area. The Police tried to get heavy and then when that didn’t work, pleaded with them to go back up and re-erect the barrel. A week later they did but left the flag flying. The Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) flew above a small piece of Utah for the next couple of years.

Despite monumentally pissing off the locals, I the climbers meant no harm. They felt that they were recreating the spirit of the original balanced rock gang. They removed the barrel and placed it next to the pole. The barrel was full of bullet holes and falling to pieces but they did not throw it off the edge. It was an adventure, not an act of desecration. The locals and the press did not see it that way. The climbers were seen as criminals and vilified! The accounts that were published then and subsequently are full of errors and are basically crap.

Sitting in a diner in Salt Lake City eating breakfast the following day I saw the article below. It was published in the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s main newspaper. It’s a truly cracking piece of journalism. Enjoy!

Click on the image to get a full sized version

16 July 2008

My arse has taken a pounding and I have ripped my ring*...

Finally got to play with the donut behind the boat on Saturday. Kev and I took it out in the fjord in front of the house and it can only be described as a lot of fun and just a little bit scary. We ripped the donut on the first attempt but then figured out how to rig it properly. The fjord is fairly small but its possible to get up to about 25 knots, then with a tight turn, the (un)fortunate at the end of the rope is getting up to about 35-40 knots (60km/h) – at that point falling off can go one of two ways, you either skip across the water and end up laughing or you plant into the water and stop dead! In which case it hurts! We were out for about 2 hours and came in feeling fairly battered but highly entertained.

Sunday morning Sandy and one of his mates (Rich) came around to borrow a climbing guide. Given the weather was crapping out they were easily persuaded to stay and play boats and rings instead of cragging. Katharine was also back so the five of us headed out into the fjord.

Sandy was up first and he was the man, the king of the ring! It was almost impossible to throw him off and required creating a big wake and then cutting back across it several times. He set the stage on his first run and and improved on successive goes. Rich and Katharine were less skilled but seemed to enjoy themselves. Rich had some great leaning moves on those fast corners looking like a sidecar rider.

When it was my turn I suddenly realized my arse was hurting a lot from the day before. Just skimming across the water hurt like hell. I survived two goes with a fairly spectacular wipe out at the end before I had to quit. My body feels like I have been playing ice hookey! Fantastic fun, this is why I bought a boat!

We then had a barbi, used the hot tub and made the most of the Lair. A great weekend.

Video below shot on a regular camera and knocked up in windows movie maker (which is, to quote the great Grant Farquar - shitte but free). Anyway you get the idea...

*Another old friend of mine from Liverpool disappeared for several days before stumbling back into his house at 3am. The next morning he emerged from his bedroom and said much the same thing to his flat mate! I don’t think there was any boats involved in that case.

15 July 2008

I'd rather be up there...

My bro has just started flying micro-lights - he claims there is nothing like hanging from a couple of pieces of cloth, secured by some wires to a single bolt while being propelled by a lawn mower engine - I'm sure it's fun and relatively safe. Not sure I am quite ready to entrust the entire family gene pool to his aviation skills just yet but as soon as he has got a bit more practice I'll let him take me for a spin. Anyway the point of the post...

The other day he was hanging out at the airfield with his new buddies after they had chosen not to go flying because the weather forecast was bad. The day had turned out better than predicted and Les was staring wishfully at the blue skies saying:

"I wish I was up there".

Quick as a flash, an old wag retorted:

"Its better to be down here wishing you were up there, than to be up there, wishing you were down here"

A fantastic piece of wisdom which applies to many other so called "dangerous" sports.

11 July 2008

Old friends visiting

One of my oldest friends, Kev is visiting this week with his Mum Val and her boyfriend Eric. Kev was the guy who came and fixed my steps last year when I had a broken leg and the local builders had all gone on holiday and left my scrambling up and down a gravel slope on crutches.

Kev and I go back a long way, in fact I was his best man when he got married in 1986, despite never having been to a wedding before. Speeches, how hard can it be? I even crashed Val’s car on the morning of the wedding – twenty-two years later I think she has forgiven me although I am not sure if they ever believed that it wasn’t even my fault!

Anyway they are here, staying in the lair and the weather is great, showing Norway at its best. Some awesome sunsets (see above). Val and Eric have done “Norway in a nutshell” and Bergen in a day and just spent a lot of time hanging out and enjoying themselves. Kev and I have played with the boat and caught up on many lost years. Its nice to have them here.

They even got me to get the fire clubs out!

(Picture courtesy of Kev Beard)

10 July 2008

Atle's car

Four years ago I sold an old Volvo 340 to my good friend Atle for 5000 nok. The car was pretty beaten up but ran fine and Atle was a student so he was happy to have transport.

A couple of months after I sold him the car I was cleaning out my desk and I found the spare key. My initial thought was to pass it on to him, but then I had a better plan...

For the next 2 years, I carried the key on my key-ring and when ever I saw his car parked I would move it. I started out by just turning it around, then moving it one or two spaces in the garage or street, then ultimately moving it to the other end of the garage and even to a different street.

We can never be sure when he figured that something was going on. Everyone else knew, so when he got drunk he would surreptitiously ask if the security guard moved anyone’s car in the garage and we would all look surprised and say no. He came to my office one time and said his car had been stolen, I said that I had seen it in the street and he went away convinced that he must have parked it out there and forgotten. Latterly, he constructed various elaborate mechanisms for the security guards to move his car from the garage (where he parked illegally) with a pallet loader, trolley jack and tow truck. At one stage he called the security and asked them to stop moving his car.

We kept this up for about two years until he finally sold the car. For a further two years we kept him in the dark, although all his friends knew, his wife knew, even people who had never met him knew. That was until today!

We were having a slow 5 minutes in an otherwise chaotic day in the office and we told him - here is the reply, which came by e-mail ten minutes later...

"I have to applaud your where’s-atles-car game which as a practical joke is ingenious. I hope that my revenge will be of similar quality and creativity. I am not surprised by your cunningness.
In fact my only surprises are:
John, the biggest gossip database the universe managed to shut up about it for 3 years
Roy, the smuggest motherfucker in space managed not to be smug about it for 3 years
Not surprisingly on the other hand: T-bone, the cooooolest dude on planet earth kept a cool face for three years.
Cunts, I salute you!"


So I guess we can say that was a result then.

06 July 2008

The great thing about living in Norway is...

…all the fun stuff you get to do in a weekend!

Katharine has gone to the alps to hurl herself down a ski slope on my mountain bike with the Leppards et al. I probably would have gone with them except I am off to Oz in 3 weeks to play with my new motorbike in the outback. So I have been home alone.

Thursday night KJK was in town so we went for some food at USF, it was a lovely evening and we sat outside by the water, caught up and watch the world go by.

Friday night went out on the boat on my own. Headed in towards Bergen and explored the coast. Found so good potential DWS spots – just need to find somebody stupid enough to go with me. Explored around Bergen and tried to get a feel for handling the boat. It’s big, fast and a bit unsteady at speed i.e. fun but scary! Ended up heading around the back of Askøy, the north side of the island was a bit more sheltered so I opened it up and got to 38 knots. Not bad! The trip was a bit further than I thought and coming down the main channel on the landward side of Sotra was straight into the wind and some biggish waves. Almost ran out of fuel but made it back. When I arrived in the marina I realized that I had been smiling solidly for two hours. A good toy.

Saturday had a agreed to take the Pope and the A-man out for a spin. Picked them up with a guy called Paul at the Bryggen and we blasted out to sea. Very happy to see the boat was much more stable with 4 people in and we cruised at a steady 30, bouncing over some big waves. Everyone had a go at driving and we got it up to 40.7! Now just need to wait for a calm day… The Pope checked out some potential mountain biking on the footwall dip slope of southern Sotra – he has a theory that this place could be the next Moab! I am skeptical…

Ended up in Lysefjord, had an ice cream and then blasted back. Just as we came under the Sotra Bridge we caught up with a huge cruise liner, pushing out a massive wake. It had to be done! I gunned the motor straight at the 3m high bow wave and we tipped the crest and surfed down the front, getting soaked from the spray. The boys loved it, they were laughing so much I thought Atle was going to cry, in fact they loved it so much we had to do it again, three more times. By the end we had a pretty big audience on the ship, as Tor said, they probably thought it was a bunch of kids pratting around – they were right!

Saturday night chilled out at home and then Sunday morning Jamie came around and we headed down to southern Sotra and Jesusvegan for some trad climbing. Haven’t climbed trad for two years, what with having a broken ankle and all that. We found the crag after some bush whacking and Jamie opted to lead the first route. Two pitch little gem which he strung into one, with a tricky move through a bulge near the top. I lead the next route which was also a cracker, it felt really good to be leading on natural gear and although the route wasn’t especially hard it had its moments, pulling into a balancy scoop above the gear. Sitting at the top belaying with that post route rush, looking out over blue skies and the sea it felt great to be alive. This is what living in Norway is all about.

We did one more then came back for tea and the last piece of my birthday cheese cake.
Any weekend when you can play with your boat, climb trad and eat cheese cake is a good one in my book!

At last some proper climbing photos! Courtesy of Jamie

04 July 2008

A bomb proof roll...

... is a good thing to have when sea-kayaking

I have no idea who this guy is but he is cool as.... a very cool thing

Can't remember who sent me this movie but I thought I'd share it with you

Weekend is here, the weather is sunny. Playing on the boat tonight and tomorrow, climbing Sunday. Rock'n'roll on the rift margin

Have a good weekend

02 July 2008

Driving in Norway 1 – That ridiculous right hand rule…

One of the most traumatic aspects of driving in Norway is the “right hand rule”. This archaic rule dates back to when cars had a maximum speed of 10 km/h and there were lots and lots of junctions with no defined right of way. In essence the rules says that on main roads out in the countryside and larger roads in town the person travelling on the road has right of way while on smaller roads especially in suburban areas the person joining from the right at a junction has the right of way. The theory sounds simply but the reality… The reality is a total fuckin nightmare!

It is pretty easy to know as you plod along the E18 from Oslo to Bergen that, on the main road you have right of way and only an idiot would pull out in front of you. Likewise on the little backstreets in the middle of town you know that at any moment somebody is highly likely to come in from the right and so you drive accordingly. So far so good.

The problem is that there is a huge grey area between the big open roads and the suburban back streets. Roads were you have right of way are marked by a yellow diamond, but these signs are infrequent and it is not uncommon for a road to change status along its length. So as you happily drive along with the right of way suddenly an idiot in a taxi (they are all idiots) will suddenly pull right across your path and it will be your fault! Yep its that logical!

It gets worse. Even in built up areas where people to the right have access its unclear as to what constitutes a road. A driveway to a house is not a road, so you can’t pull-out from your drive – fair enough. Even pulling out from a driveway that connects two or three houses is not allowed. So what is a road? Apparently the magic number is six! If a track serves six or more houses then you can launch yourself into the path of oncoming traffic safe in the knowledge that when some poor sod t-bones you, its their fault. The result of this is that you drive through built up areas staring at the signs that show the house numbers trying to count and calculate if the person heading in from your right is likely to stop and hoping that they know how many neighbours they have.

Furthermore, no-one is really sure what constitutes a road. The strip of tarmac that heads from the main road through Sandsli into Statoilhydros office complex. It looks like a road but its private property. Everyday around 3pm its carnage as either both cars stop or both try to proceed believing they have right of way. Nobody I have asked actually seems to know what the legal position is and everyone is scared and confused.

Some argue that it would cost too much to have a sign at every road junction – bollox! This is the second richest country in the World. In fact they are currently changing all the signs for the zebra crossings because the figure, who looks rather daper in his hat, is too masculine! Apparently some poor women are not sure if they are allowed to use these crossings, and there are even people without hats who are uncertain if they can cross. Others claim that the scaletrix dads who run the country keep it like this to slow the traffic down – yes for real, I have heard that argument on more than one occasion. If promoting anarchy makes the roads safer then lets follow it to its logical conclusion and abolish all the traffic rules. Make it like Asda on a saturday afternoon, totally chaotic but at least nobody ever gets killed because everything is grid locked and nobody is going anywhere.

Me – my next car will be a tank with extra armour on the right hand side. Then I am not stopping for anyone unless there is a whiteline and a give-way sign. Just like the rest of the civilised world*

And yes I know the French have a similar version of this rule but, A) theirs is much more toned down and; B) I don't count that as part of the civilised world.

01 July 2008

Nerdy things to do with a GPS and a kayak in Western Norway

The degree confluence project is an attempt to document all the land or near-land intersection points of cardinal lines of latitude and longitude.

Basically it means lots of nerds go and take photos of the exact point in space where 6 degrees North crosses 54 degrees East etc. Then they post them on the web...

Why? Buggered if I know, but it beats watching shitte tv or worse, football. Its also a good way to spend a day and visit a point on the Earth`s surface that has no other merit, ie it is not a summit or especially pretty or anything. It just happens to be where two arbitary navigation lines cross.
Essentially its an excuse to get out the house and visit somewhere random.

So last year when I found out that 60N/5E had never been visited and it was just off the coast to the south of us it seemed a good way to waste a day, infact a whole weekend.

You can read the account here ...