Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Spiced Rum

All quietish on the Eastern Front at the moment, as we ramp up for a new term. Both have been away, in my case working again at the dreaded NEC, a place that makes the most barren strip mall in Sarnia, London, Missisauga or Hamilon look like a rainforest of variation. RHB has been in Bangor on work related matters, then , after a short stop back in Hull for an evening, headed down to London's glittering West End to take in a play, a museum and an art gallery. She returned, bearing a much more artistic demeanor than when she left, stuffed to the gills with culture, and in possession of a bum fountain, or at least the beginnings of one. Travelling by train, she was scheduled to return on Saturday evening at 19.15, hop in the shower and walk the short distance with me to a friend's birthday party, but naturally, the train was delayed so she arrived at Jerry's birthday party just in time to see him blowing out the candles.

Jerry is a legend at Large Mansions. I met him in the depths of Concretia, evil Empress of the back yard. He was visiting the place to assess some plastering work we needed doing: work I actually did myself in the end, but should have used Jerry, as my post on "The Calumny of Plastering" makes evident.

To recap on Concretia, I had hired a crew headed by Cheap Steve to demolish the two foot thick, twelve foot long concrete monstrosity that had provided totally unsuitable foundations for the property's existing extension. The episode broke Cheap Steve . The week after he hadnt demolished the thing, Steve left Hull, intent on travelling the world for 10 months. The full story of Cheap Steve can be obtained by searching this Blog. Just insert "Cheap Steve" or "Concretia". The true story of the demise of the thing though, was not fully reported at the time on YWNA. Probably because I wanted to claim credit for myself. The truth involves Jerry, and can now be exclusively revealed.

Our (me,Darren, JJ, Cheap Steve, Cheap Steve's mate 'Highway Robber', Nel, John from next door, Steve employees and two full construction gangs) collective failure to remove Concretia still left me with the problem that I could'nt start work on my new extension until the wicked carbuncle was gone. Failure had been massive. The whole affair had become a debacle and neighbours were queueing up to offer advice, then watching as their advice too, bounced off Concretia like a moth bouncing off a window-pane.Of clear back-lit glass. Anyway, to continue.....

.....Desperate, but after much thought, I set about digging under the 6ft by 12ft raft of concrete, reasoning that I could then drill small holes through it to weaken it. The possibilities I was considering for breaking it up after weakening it included fire, more pneumatic drills, brimstone, magic, genetically modified mice with diamond tipped teeth and plastic explosive. It had become an obsession. Jerry walked into this mess, as I was spelunking my nemesis, and was introduced by our mutual friend JJ. I explained to Jerry, more as a by-the-by than anything else, what I was about. The great man sized up the situation shrewdly, then said, quietly:

"Let me give it a little hit?"

I handed him my remaining sledgehammer, raising a sceptical eyebrow at JJ, who had been attacking Concretia with me the previous day. JJ smirked back knowingly. Our endeavours had made so little impression on Concretia that we began to doubt our heritage, specifically our forefather's legend's about how the Irish had dug the English' canals. Either stonebreaking was not genetic, which meant that our forefathers had lied to us, or, if it was, our Irish genes were diluted. Which also meant our forefathers had lied to us.

JJ and Nel at Jerry's Birthday Party. [Note; it is possible that posting this entirely unflattering picture will be my last mortal act. In my defence, and for the record, may I say that I only posted it because the facial expressions are funny, and the image in no way is a true representation of either of these individuals, who, as we all know, are stunningly good looking. If, however, RHB does enact on my person a hideous revenge, I hereby bequeath my entire "Mexico 70" album to JJ].

Jerry hefted the sledgehammer, testing the weight. It was a cheap thing, as the sledgehammer budget has been completely blown the previous week. Jerry looked thoughtfully at the immovable object polluting my backyard. Feet slightly apart, he gave one long swing, towards a region of the malevolence I had been relentlessly, ineffectually, bashing for most of the previous day. The next few seconds were in slow motion, etched into my brain like Steven Gerrard's header in the Istanbul 2005 Champion's League Final, as the hammer head hit, then cracks spread, Concretia sagged, crumbled and broke. JJ, , stepped backward, astonished:

"Jesus, Jerry!!" he declared in his broad Dublin accent "You're a horse of a man!"

I too exclaimed, but as with most Liverpudlians, my voice raises several octaves when excited, amazed or scared, so all anyone would have witnessed of my own visage was an open mouth. In the distance, dogs barked.

Genetically, JJ and I needed a cup of tea and sipping it comfortably, we asked Jerry how," in the name of God", he had accomplished his feat. Accents are a curious thing, but there's something about the Jamaican accent that enables it to deliver the deepest wisdom, simply. Jerry just looked modest.

" Hit it were it come. That's all. You gotta hit it were it come."

Over a year later, we're sitting in Jerry and Sarah's back yard, eating the delicious trout that Jerry, Shaka, and JJ caught that day, and sipping spiced rum. The males are telling stories and the females are commenting on how the males "embellish" these oft told tales. JJ and I concur with theopinion that there's no story thats so good it cant get a little bit better. Even so, I refrain, on this occasion, from referring to Concretia, as RHB has had a hard day's travel, and heard the story before.

Our own back yard is now much improved from the days of Concretia, although not quite ready for numbers of visitors yet, although, thanks to Jerry (and everyone else who helped) it soon will be. Last week, I promised to post a picture. Below are two pictures, the yard as it was, and the yard as it is. It feels good to look at them :

Close examination of the above picture will reveal a particularly satisfied, pinkish cat. Concretia, Evil Empress of the BAck Yard has been replaced by Toshack, Canadian Barn Cat and Sun King.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Tower of Babel

Exterior of the house summer 2008. Scaffolding is roofers.

Exterior of the house September 2009; Scaffolding is what Nel and I put up.

Detail of masonry work repainted.

Front of house completed apart from drainpipe repaint. Note, if you will , that we moved the original fence.

Original rear of house. Photo of new rear to follow tomorrow.

As those of you expecting an invitatioin to our house warming party may be aware, we are nnot quite finished at Large Mansions. It would be face saving if we could attribute this to earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters, but unfortunately, the real reason is our work-shy nature and an element of planning deficiency that makes the UK's exit strategies from its various theatre's of war positively prescient. There is one target however that we identified as a "must do" this summer, and that is the task of 'winterizing' the old place. In that area, we have succeeded, and succeeded well. I may as well get all the terrible puns out of the way now, but the procurement of scaffoldimg last week (inbetween zipping up and down various motorways), and a subsequent erection that I was inordinately proud of, meant that Project "Wind and the Rain", ended on a high.

Winterizing, for us, meant an extenal treatment of all of our windows so that they are completely airtight, this removing unwanted draughts. This then allows us to choose where draughts and fresh air can ener the house as opposed to being constantly surprised by errant gusts of wind. In Large Mansions, night-time was when these draughts made themselves unpleasantly apparent. The household would prepare for slumber, usually in strict order : firstly RHB, announcing that she was 'done' in the middle of "Prison Hell: the world's toughest jails" or "Tough guy or Chicken: Can ten male models survive the world's toughest grooming regime?", would retire suddenly leaving a confused assemblage in her wake. The larger of the two cats and I, would sit up, noses twitching in a state of indecision : stay or go? which enabled the smaller cat to sneak out the room. She would, in a Liverpool phrase that is the only appropriate one I can think of to describe the urgency of her movement, "leg it" up the stairs, while Toshack and I were trying to unmesmerise ourselves, brains still focused on whether Reuben would survive the Leg Wax Challenge. Tosh and I exchange looks, decide to see out the end of the programme, then as next week's cliff hanger is announced, switch everything off and head for our respective ablutions.

It is at this moment that it all gets very tactical. By now, the remaining space on the bed is limited - RHB is a diminutive creature, but somehow gains volume when in repose. Callisandra Vella, Evil Queen of the BacK Garden, similarly grows to a stature that matches her many titles. The challenge, for me and the larger cat, is to claim space before the other does. After tooth brushing, during which he miaows at me constantly, Tosh and I stalk eachother, both headed in the general direction of the chamber.

Ten minutes later, I am usually to be found lying precariously on my side, along a 3 inch strip of mattress at the edge of the bed, covered with just the correct amount of duvet to perfectly constitute an irritant. The rumble of loud, contented purring adds to the effect. It is at this point that I was wont, for six long months, to notice a faint, but chill breeze across the shoulder. If sleeping was an Olympic sport, I doubt that I would ever achieve even junior qualifying standards, so bad am I at it: the faintest thing can cause insomnia, and the breeze was a persistant threat. Even as we gradually sealed the outside of the house, the breeze stubbornly remained. NIghts would pass spent wandering the echoing corridors with a lighter, holding it up to window frames, door seals and room corners, trying to establish the origins of the vent, but it did not reveal.

I was apprehensive about sleep - it was the first I had spent in the house (being otherwise than Birmingham) since completion of Project Wind and the Rain. equipped with all my draught detecting kit, I lay down hesitantly. Nothing. Amazed, but optimistic, I stopped breathing. Still nothing. Then, cautiously I breathed out slowly. The next day we drew up a new to-do list, very happily.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The War of the Blogs

As you may be aware, once this author has a bee in his bonnet, it tends to stay there. Or would do if honey bees were not disappearing faster than you can say pesticide.

It all started when I stumbled upon a blog when I was researching some work done on climate change by Dr Latif. Dr latif was proposing a suspension in overall global warming for about a decade indicated by ocean temperature measurements in the Northern Atlantic. I had heard of Dr LAtif's work via BBC radio, who ran a couple of features on his work. An entry commenting on Dr Latif's work was mentioned in my Google search so I clicked on the link, eager for illumination, expecting perhaps an informed medium level explanation of the work. The link however disappointed, citing Latif as evidence that Climate Change was not occuring, and challenged the BBC (from whom I had heard of Latif) to publicise his "heresy".

On a whim, I posted a comment on the blog, correcting the error, and thus unwittingly, this years YWNA Campaign Respecting Accuracy (in) Posting (CRAP 2009) has been launched.

The exchange that started it all can be found here:

The idea behind CRAP 2009 is to work slowly down the list of blogs that Not a Sheep is linked to and engage them in debate, on their own turf, challenging inaccuracies, prejudice and nonsense at every turn. This campaign will be pressed with a steely determination, ruthlessness, fortitude and tenacity until either

a). every single blog on the entire world wide web that posts nonsense has either reformed or given up.


b). I get bored.

Those with long memories may recall my campaign to reform the rail systems of the UK. The success of that campaign was liteally unmeasurable, and I expect a similar result for Crap 2009. Watch this space.

Monday, 14 September 2009

A Proponderance of Knowledge

The van drive is uncomfortable, not just because I am on a bag containing my cordless drill, but also because a group of executives are accompanying us to the next venue in our, by now inexorable, tour of England's Midlands. Their task is to 'roll up their shirt- sleeves', put their 'shoulders to the grindstone', and get down and dirty with 'the trades' and 'help' us put up the stage. Most of them look chillingly enthusiastic.

"Why?" I ask the slightly flabby executive next to me.

"Team building exercise" he replies "Its Clive, by the way. What's your name, fellah?"

"Mar..n" I mumble, hoping desperately that a name badge is not suddenly supplied. Clive's team all have them - all I can hope is that the illiteracy he obviously assumes of me means that I can be excluded from tagging.

"Nice to meet you chap. No prizes for guessing where you come from, eh? Who do you support?"



"Mooseheads. I'm Canadian. "

Admittedly this is a slightly naughty divergence on my part, so I clarify the situation immediately : "Just a little joke - I emigrated to Canada years ago and now I'm a citizen. Came back here about two years ago."

Clive laughs quickly, and asks the familiar question "Why did you bother coming back here?", with the also familiar accompanying rising tone of incredulity. I explain how after a dissolute life as a rocker's moll, RHB is now a top boffin as a direct result of watching daytime television. Clive is admiring.

"Euroscience - so that's all about EEC policy and suchlike?"

"Sort of, " I concede and then explain how Euroscience is the scientific study of Europe. RHB's speciality is V1 and V2, which, I further explain, are the technical names given to the tiny little microeconomic regions near France - Monaco and Lichtenstein. Clive is fascinated, and even more so when I expand, explaining that I too am headed towards academia, by virtue of being only a part time carpenter, and a full time anthropologist.

"That's brilliant!" he enthuses "And how long do you say these books took you to write? "

In case you, the reader thinks I was being unfair on Clive, I have to admit that I was. There is simply no defence for misleading a perfectly innocent, patronising middle manager by telling them outright lies. Unless of course, they start waffling on about how they themselves also fancy getting some more education, and are thinking of an MBa, and are fascinated by the concepts of 'Quantum Marketing'.

I utter a gutteral noise, which Clive interprets as awakening interest, and he raises his chin slightly in my direction. "Particle Physics...." I manage to gasp."...quantum marketing?? ...but...its not....umph ..." the 'umph' exhalation is because we've just gone over speed bumps and my drill has been triggered, 1500 rpm somewhere near the glutimous maximus.".....thought it was er, physics...quantum stuff..?.."

"That's just it" he enthuses "What makes it all so exciting. They've" ['they'?] have taken the principles of Quantum Physics and applied them to the market. Particularly people........."

Clive explains how in Quantum Physics, "they" have "proved" that if you apply equal forces to two particles which are held in close proximity, then separate the particles by miles, then apply force to one of the particles, the other instantaneously also acts as if the same force had been applied to it. Apparently, in the actual experiment, a single 'molecule' , after being held next to it's best friend and having forces acted upon it, was then flown to the other side of the world - presumably in a special molecule box - and was, literally bombared with 'forces'. By 'they'. Left with no choice, the molecule 'reacted'. That, Clive explains is how particle physics works, and furthermore, is the only way to explain some consumer trends across the world.

"How come, for example, suddenly everyone wanted one of those tamagochi things? It was like, no-one had heard of them , then suddenly, every kid had to have one. Humans just act like quantum particles. "

Depressingly enough, quantum marketing isnt the only thing Clive proves to me. He also introduces the concept of tribal branding, which is, he tells me, straight out of anthropology.

"People act just like tribes" say Clive "and no more so than when they're in a group. Its a really exciting concept, but if you can get under the skin of these ideas, then it takes marketing to the next level".

Obviously, the questions to ask are "Why?", "What next level?", "Why?" (again), and "Are you in the wrong van?", but after a three-quarter of an hour, ten mile journey we reach the venue.
Clive springs out the van.

"Right, chief, where do you want us? We're in your hands? " he asks, rubbing his hands together.

As Clive is, I learn later, one of the future senior managers of his particular retail outfit, I think we are in his hands. Does anyone know any good shipwreck songs?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

A Little Bit of Analogy is a Dangerous Thing......

"Since the beginning of time people have been forming groups in order to survive on earth. Not surprisingly research has shown that people are genetically programmed to form into groups to live, work and survive. The strongest and most powerful type of group is a tribe.

PEOPLE form tribes to gain a sense of identity and strength in a big, impersonal world according to management consultants Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, authors of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization.

By combining our collective experience with a sprinkling of research, The Alternative and Rambutan have developed insights and new practical models around a new phenomena we’re calling “New Brand Tribalism”.

We believe "New Brand Tribalism" is the next big idea for organisations looking to compete or indeed move to a higher level of productivity, passion and influence.

The existence of tribalism amongst organisations and consumers has become evident in the early years of the twenty first century!

We've looked at the emotional and psychological cohesion between the organisation, employees and
the customer and have some real life case studies that give us a guidepost, But how do leaders and communicators harness the power of their brands to become beacons of loyalty and belonging?"

Reference :

The ideas expressed are , if such a word exists, shudderable. What is potentially worse is that business school types are utilising ideas that true explorers, either geographic or conceptual, have developed or expounded, in their own work. Unfortunately, the concepts sketched out by Messrs Logan, King and Fisher-Wright are also worthy of closer examination. Equally unfortunately, the idea is not a lone one as the paper by Cleopatra Veloutsou and Lois Moutinho illustrates ( ref :, nor is the multi-disciplanrian methodology. The sacred study of anthropology - the pure field of research into how humans (usually 'others') live, relate, and why, and what meanings are derived through culture has had its arcane language, and beautiful diagrams of kinship relationships among the Nuer, usurped, applied and used for the heinous purpose of money making. In other words, anthropology has grown up and joined every other academic discipline and become, horribly, horribly, 'applied', whether the applicators know what they are doing or not.

I wish to be very clear here : I am decidely of the opinion that culture and shopping are not the same thing. This is my starting point. But I have decided to challenge this notion, and investigate the question further, mostly by asking a number of questions. For example, are the penis gourds of many New Guinean Highland peoples really just a different expression of the staff unifroms at MacDonalds - namely a convenient way of cementing a group identity? Or when an organisation issues a Mission Statement outlining it's core values such as Marks and Spencers' bullet point commitment to "Deliver outstanding bra fit service" is that really the same as Egyptian heiroglyphics - namely a statement of cultural values? Are groups of consumers really analogous to Amazonian tribespeople's - similarly economically endowed, approximately homogenous, self-defined human coalitions? The snob in me thinks not - I consider consumers and images of fat, stupid sheep living the 'Wal-Mart experience' spring to mind, BUT, I consider myself a cyclist, a musician, a hiker, a set-builder, and isnt that just the same thing?

I have not the answers to this tonight, but I will finish with one observation, (bearing in mind that this is not (yet) a properly argued anthropological treatise, but more a sketch pad) and that observation is as follows. The authors of the first quote stated that humans are genetically programmed to "form into groups in order to live, work and survive" At this stage I will propose that this statement is a vast oversimplification. Humans are undoubtedly social animals, hence group formation, but to extrapolate from that without distinguishing between groups formed from necessity (for example minimal community size necessary to hunt, gather, collect firewwod and build shelter) and groups formed, from choice, in the midst of plenty (for example whist drives, bowling clubs and football fans) is, to me, an analogy too far. And, without wishing to presuppose the conclusions I shall draw once I have completed my investigations on this crucial issue, such mistaken analogy making is a similar misue of anthropology to the misuse of evolutionary theories that followed the so-called Enlightenment.

On this subject, if anyone still reads this thing, opinions are solicited. Your author, regardless of whether opinions are provided or not, will press on with his research in the true anthropological tradition of having reached his conclusion before evidence - yea or nay- can be derived. Unfortunately, the subject will likely be revisited over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

YWNA recommends

Work, of the paid type has caused unexpected interruptions in this blog recently. Schedules are tight and relentless, and travelling, mostly to Birmingham (of which perhaps more in a future entry) and very, very long days. Today started at six am after a night in a Hilton Hotel near Birmingham and ended just now in Hull (approx 23.52 local time), and I left home two days ago, have returned for a change of underwear and a precious six hours shut-eye on a sofa in my own house, before heading off again onto the British motorways - Leeds, Birmingham, Derby and somewhere else beckon in the next few days. But heed ye not this entry as a cry for sympathy or even admiration for my Calvanistic work tendencies. These periods of emplyment are a short, very intense, sharp, shock of immenmse pleasure. When we are "on the road" like this the little crew that assembles HAS to become a functioning unit, militarily efficient in a very short period of time, as we put up and disassemble large complicated mechanical structures in vanishingly smaller periods of time. The group gets tight very quickly or drowns - jeopardizing everyone's future employment - so relationships, in-jokes, ruthlessly efficient procedures, and most crucially of all, a cliqueish distain for outsiders, all have to become normal operating procedure within minutes of meeting, or the thing just doesnt work. I cannot recall the number of people I have had a brilliant laugh with at two am, (after a very long day, as we try to solve one technical problem or other) with whom I've swapped e-mail addresses, swearing to keep in touch. You almost never do, and on the rare, naive occasions that you do meet up for a drink, its wierd, strained, forced. YOu are supposed to know these people through climbing under stages, feeding miles of audio-visual cable through impossible, claustrophobic spaces, or walkng gantries ninety feet above the ground fixing a dry ice machine with the wrong tools, not comfortably, in a pub, like a civilian. Frankly, it is brilliant, but it cannot go on for ever. It is a young person's game, and I alas, while childish in many ways, am definitely not young. SO maybe, this is my last season. Just until next August, or September. This current spot of work continues until the 27th September, soi YWNA may be sporadic until then.

I just had to write, though tonight, for two reasons. Firstly, I have come home, and naturally, am completely out of synch with the rhythyms of Large Mansions. Planning to sleep in your own bed is great, except if you cannot sleep because your body clock is operating according to the demands of caffeine, bad beer and hotel food. So I have driven through the night to be at home with my beautiful partner only to end up sitting in the kitchen hankering after an Americano, large bottle of Orange Juice a roll your own cigarette, and some chocolate and a desire/suspicion that some technical problem will arise in relation to our house that will require:

a) a MIG welder
b) very high scaffolding or at least, a 'cherry picker'
c) some gaffa (or, in Canada 'duct') tape
d). an innoucous piece of metal, ground, persuaded and improvosied intro an essential tool
e). someone on guard for the health and safety officers.

Part of me wants the roof to blow off.

The second reason of writing is that I think (although this may well be a reflection of a strung out caffeine and highway fuelled adrenalin high) I have just seen the most beautiful wildlife pictures. Even if my impression IS slightly distorted, I do think that these shots are pretty good, and Northern Norway has been permanently added to Kgyrystan, Ulan Bator, New Guinea and Peru as places I would rather see and die than Rome. The pictures can be found at :

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Two Local Walks

RHB and Skarra en route to Whitby, home of Goths.

Ridge looking NOrth from Moel Famau.

The recent weeks have been consumed with renovations and cutting our CO2 emissions. If I were writing in the Guardian, one of England's national broadsheets, I could expect at this stage for the comments section below this post to be filled with hundreds of outraged posts, as Climate Change is one of the two issues guaranteed to provoke furious reactions in this country. The other subject guaranteed a return is, incidentally, atheism. One would think that atheism is a subject requiring no further discussion: it is, after all a non-doctrine, but if the paper wants to generate news, it simply gets a lower league hack to write a short piece attacking religion, and voila ! - pages of semi-literate prose flows as surely as God didnt make the ocean. The whole process is an exercise in pointlessness, unless, of course, you take the view that the newspaper industry is an unnecessary evil, a money driven, cynical manipulator of people's fears and desires. As this entirely corresponds with the descriptions that Climate Change cynics give to eco-warriors and atheists give to religion, the whole process of web-based comments sections has a neat cirularity to it, but arguments are never advanced.

Cliffs north of Robin Hoods Bay. Yorkshire.

For us, the argument on Climate Change is done, and it is simple: heat costs us money. Our own environmentalism, now and for the future, is rooted in this simple philosophy. The addition that fixing up this tumbling wreck is fun, is a bonus. The result of this, at least in respect of this article, is that if, by chance, a Climate Change denier stumbles upon this blog, and, after a mornings' deliberation, posts an angry, but carefully worded, destruction of the theories of Climate Change, citing that the planet has actually cooled in the last ten years, and quoting the extensive reports from 'scientists' on how the evidence shows the climate is actually cooling:

or quoting from one of the many sceptic websites:

asking me how dare I inflict my views on the whole world, and challenging me to 'prove' my theories in a triumphantly provocative way, I'm afraid my response will be completely unscientifc, something along the lines of "Bog Off, Numbnuts, I'm playing in my own backyard". I may add the riposte "Show us yer fuel bills, stupid!" , but only if he, the challenger (and they are ALWAYS male), calls me an eco-warrior.

Skarra and Mazzer Above Robin Hoods BAy at the end of our hike.

In short, our house continues unheated, while all around us, the familiar (but soon not to be) plumes of exhaust from gas central heating rises from our neighbour's vents. I happiliy mince round the house in my sarong after a shower, and in the evening, frequently throw the bedsheets, and assemblage of cats, off the bed, as I try to combat the enervating effects of over-heating. RHB, as is typically contrary, gathers cats, duvets and blankets about her, even in the fiercest heat, and almost never wears a sarong. She definitely never minces. She does however, admit that the house is warm.
RHB and Skarra end of Hike . Robin Hoods Bay. Yorkshire.

Still, heating-related perversions are not the only activity in and around Large Mansions. The last two weeks have witnessed our further attempts at longer hikes than normal. The first was two weeks ago, when, after a disaster of planning, I met up

View Larger Map

with my little brother at Moel Famau in Wales for a quick day hike across it, and the associated ridges. In many ways the journey across the country was as interesting as the hike. You may, if you investigate the maps further, be apprised of the fact that the mountain is only 151 miles away. INdeed, Google maps gives a travel time of about two hours forty minutes. This seems, at first glance, do-able in a day, either by car, or by public transport (my preferred method). It was at the planning stage of this trip, upon viewing these statistics, that I paused, and, puffing myself up fully with pride at the fact that I am an evolved human with learning ability, abandoned all plans to try to make the journey in a day. Experience had taught me that travel times here mean nothing. Consequently, I resolved to travel, the previous day, as inexpensively as possible. It is at this point that I draw your attention to the following link, a link that shows the bus timetable to Bangor, a place from which I could, theoretically obtain onward transport:

I should explain that I checked this travel time at least twice, and it is fairly consistent. I should also add, for those unfamiliar with the UK, that Bangor does have a faily major University, is located at the heart of the North Wales tourist areas, does have metalled roads and that the rule of law does pervade the place. It is not, in other words, Helmand province, half a planet away. I then decide to go by rail. The results were better:


but the average speed obtained is still only about 30 mph and the cost is about £2.00 per mile.
Heather in the Hills around Meol Famau.

A final, and fun compromise was reached. I decided to get a 6.oopm train from Hull to Chester, a conecting train to a place called Hooton, a small village in Cheshire, then ride to my brother's house. We would have a nice sleep, get up at dawn, drive to Moel Famau, do our hike, then I would return immediately to Hull via train.

The six o'clock train from Hull was the drunkest train I have ever been on. This is because it was the train taking football fans, fresh from a defeat at Hull, back to Bolton, a town near Manchester. I realised, swathed in thick lycra, that boarding the thing was a mistake shortly after the first football fan provocatively offered me a beer.

"No thanks" I said, pretending to mess with the straps securingg the Crosstowner to its bracket.

The fan looked at me, puzzled and cross -eyed. He looked exactly as Toshck does when the frog he is 'playing' with squeaks loudly at him.

"Wasammarrar? Have a f***in drink. Ine only being frenly."

He suddenly burst loudly ino song "Going down, going down, going down", stopped singing just as suddenly and returned his attention to the Crosstowner. The rest of the journey continued in a similar vein, a tale which will be as yawningly familiar to regular readers (from my commutations to Leeds) as they were to me. The fan wanted to know what I was doing with my bike, why I would'nt drink with him, could he have a 'little go' on my bike 'for a laugh', why I didnt want to have 'a laugh' and so on and so forth.

Then, just before Manchester, Cher got on the train. At least six foot two in the high heels that British newspapers admiringly describe as 'killer' , and in a skin tight lace minidress, Cher and 'her' friends were already drunk and were off for a night out in Manchester. Possibly female, 'she' was covered in thick layers of more earth-derived substances than the average archaeologist digs in a lifetime, so without carbon dating, her age was difficult to tell. Needless to say, the Crosstowner, which by this stage was very scared, was endlessly fascinating to her. She demanded a 'takey' (traditional British sport in which females get carried on the crossbar of bicycle by chivalrous boyfriend) and attempted to climb on the bike. Eventually (ie after about four hours of subjective time, and probably ten minutes of 'real' time) she got bored, and spent the rest of her twenty minute journey playing with the automatic door of the carriage's toilet, pressing the 'open' button just as the door closed and howling with anticipated glee at the dismay of evry user. One of Cher's friends, sporting another of this season's 'must haves', the maxi dress, leant casually against the Crosstowner, laughing at her friend's inventiveness. I spent the last ten minutes of the journey hoping none of them would notice the massive smear of oil across the back of Cher's friend's dress.

The hike the next day was great. Five minutes out of the car park, people disappeared. My brother however, has a question:

"Why do you say 'Hi' to everyone we meet?"

The tradition British salutation on hikes is of course a gruffly mumbled "H'lo". One does meet people who will converse in the hills, but infrequently, and often the conversation starts brightly and descends into embarrassment as both parties wonder why they bothered to stop for a chat. Sooner, rather than later, one party will say brightly "Well, got to get on" and, relieved, both groups stride off in opposite directions. I try to explain to little brother that I am Canadian, but having been born in the same household, he foinds this explanation difficult to accept. It is then necessary to bore him at great length on my cultural theories, especially in respect of ideas about how we choose our culture. And, personalising this whole notion, while I may espouse a socialistic, non-judgemental, post-Modernistic, equality-driven set of political beliefs, the cultures I have chosen emotionally, dictate more how I relate to people than my rationalistic theoretical framework. In my world, hikers, bikers, tree-huggers, vintage car-rallyists, amateur pilots and musicians - in other words enthusiasts, are great. On the other hand, fashion-victims, cynics, drunks and ostriches stink.
RHB playing with cats before hike to Robin Hoods Bay. Co-incidentally, RHB is also an abbreviation I considered for our hike.

THe next weekend we went on a hike from Robin Hoods Bay to Whitby via a disused railway line (the map shows the road route, but the railway runs parallel to the sea, between it and the road across the fields), and back again via the cliffs. It took us three hours (because of traffic) to car-share the 60 mile journey with a friend. It was brilliant.

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