Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oooh... me knees!!!

Me and my partner tackled Stac Pollaidh last Wednesday afternoon, with the help of the excellent info on www.walkinghighlands.co.uk.

In a former life, I was a little bit of a walker, but now at 40-something and about 19 stone, my best days are long behind me.

This is by far the most difficult walking challenge we have faced together, although I should stress that at least some of the difficulty was down to age and lack of fitness.

For the record, the circuit took us 4 and a half hours, which included a ten minute stop at the "saddle" for lunch, and numerous stops on the way up (and on the steep down!) to gather our collective breaths.

We also had a 10 minute hiatus weighing up the weather, as it was fairly crappy!

If you are of similar vintage to us and are thinking of doing this walk, then be warned, it is VERY steep in places and is VERY hard work.

However do not be put off, as it is eminently doable if you are reasonably able - and the path is very clear and relatively easy.

We arrived at the car park with low cloud all around and a positive gale blowing in from the Summer Isles. The crags were coming in and out of view and we never did see the tops of Cul Beag, Cul Mor or Suilven.

We struggled (quite literally) up the first 100m or so and our initial thoughts that we might not be able to manage this were strengthened - but we were enjoying being out, and were happy to do what we could do.

The path around the foot of the eastern summit had a number of short steep sections, that took our breath away in no small measure. I should say, though, it was the lungs rather than the legs that suffered.

As we climbed higher, the cloud dropped lower, and soon it began to rain. This was the time when we were most likely to pack the whole job in... there was no point simply walking into the cloud. But, out to sea the cloudbase looked higher and so after 10 minutes standing around (and getting a bit chilly!) we continued - to do at least the loop.

As we reached the brow and received shelter from the mountain itself, we were able to take in some of the surroundings without fear of being blown to Norway.

Although the day was very grey, the views were nevertheless impressive. For experienced walkers this will come as no surprise, but for those like me who have not ventured out like this before, it was very satisfying to look down of the lochs and lochans, and across to the other mountains in the kind of panoramic landscape reminiscent of a Colin Baxter photograph... though not nearly so well lit!!!

This was reward enough for us as it was... but as we rounded the back of the mountain, the fork in the path meant we had to make a decision.

Ignoring for the moment that I actually missed the left turn up (perhaps dismissed, rather than missed?) we took a look at the proposed route.

My partner was not too keen, but she said I could go if I wanted. I said it was not worth doing if we were not going to do it together (and if we weren't both going, I wouldn't go alone)... and so, together we went up.

I confess, that about 4/5ths of the way up, I turned round and thought... I'm not going to be able to get down - but knowing that I had no choice, decided to concentrate on my feet and "ignore" the worrying terrain.

Shortly afterwards - two and a half hours after setting out - and with something of a sense of achievement, we reached the ridge. Of course, this meant we were no longer sheltered from the gale!

We had a bit of a scaredy-cat look down to the car park, then hunkered down in the lee of some rocks for a small spot of lunch.

It had never been my intention to scamble up the eastern summit, but even if it had, I would not have made the attempt in these weather conditions. It was far too blowy, and still a little damp.

Lunch taken, and northward panorama inwardly digested, we set off down.

I had noted on the way up, that the suggested path down looked a bit dicey... as if there had been a recent rock fall. Even so, I was concentrating on my feet by now (although the path did not feel nearly so vertiginous as I had expected) and missed the turn.

This meant, of course, that we met up with the loop path where we had joined, and then had to climb no small amount to continue on the anticlockwise circuit.

Passing the bottom of the suggested path from the ridge, it didn't look half so bad from that angle... but hey, we were there now.

Another few yards, and we were once again out of shelter and in the teeth of the gale once more... if anything it was even stronger. But, the cloud was lighter, and the rain was no longer in the air.

Having achieved the major goal of the walk, we continued back to the car park with almost a spring in our step... but not forgetting the sting in the tail.

That steep climb at the start had to be descended at the end.

And in terms of difficulty, tiredness being a factor no doubt, that was the trickiest part of the whole walk.

But we managed it... reached that car, and whilst we would break no speed records, felt suitably impressed with ourselves.

Even the sun came out!!!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

In the family way (II)

As you know, if you've read my similarly entitled previous entry, I'm doing a bit of research into my family tree.

When I married, for reasons as they where, I decided to use my future wife's surname, rather than keep my own.

Now, you can choose to go by any name you wish here in the UK, except under certain special circumstances where you must use your legal name.

For we males, that is likely to be the name on your birth certificate, complete with any mistakes that may have been made at the time. For our oppos... the rule is the same, but on marriage, the husband's surname becomes the wife's legal surname.

Again, it don't really matter, unless you have to use your legal name, and the three examples I was given were:

  1. Applying for a passport
  2. Criminal proceedings (it is your legal name, after all)
  3. Marriage (which you've guessed by now. I'm sure!)

So, in light of this, the reality was I had to change my name by deed poll, so that my legal surname would be the same as my intended's and she would still take "my" name, but of course there would be no change.

As a complete aside, me and my sister and my daughter quite enjoy playing the "all three of us have different surnames but none of us are married - work that one out" game with new people. Well, it amuses us.

Anyhew, all of which (above) is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that my birth family name is "Batty".

Batty is a fine northern name, and those of you familiar with the very north western part of Yorkshire may have come across it in the geographical name Batty Green. I think Batty Green these days is little more than a small open area close to Ribblehead, although I understand there used to be a temporary township of the same name there, and the name itself was considered for Ribblehead Station (on the Settle-Carlisle line) before the latter was finally decided upon.

Certainly, (at least one of) the regional birthplace(s) of the name is that area of Yorkshire, and perhaps previously, Cumberland.

I have managed to trace my paternal lineage to the 1790s and my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, one Thomas Batty of Burton-in-Lonsdale, but everything I know about Thomas, with one exception, I have told you in this sentence.

It's interesting, and a bit scary, to note that I am related to Thomas in the same (although not patrilineal) way as my daughter's granddaughter's granddaughter's son will be to me, should he care to look back from his vantage point in the early 2200s!

The only other thing I know about Thomas is he had a son called James Altham Batty.

(I guess... and it is only a guess that James Altham's mother's maiden name was Altham, but as I said... 'tis nobbut a guess.)

Now, James is a very common name, Altham is not rare, and Batty, at least in the Lonsdale region is as common as... well... muck.

But "James Altham Batty"? There can't be that many of those, can there?

I don't know exactly when James was born, but I do know he was baptised on 22nd April 1798 in Thornton-in-Lonsdale.

I know he married Mary, and together they had 6 (as far as I can find) children, William, Margaret, Mary, Robert, Thomas and my direct ancestor Christopher.

From decennial censuses I know he lived throughout his life in Burton-in-Lonsdale, found employment in one of the (many) Burton Potteries and whilst I am not 100% certain (you'd be surprised just how many James Batty's were born in 1797-8!!!) in 1870 in Settle a James Batty was registered as having died, and is therefore very likely to be my great-great-great-great grandfather.

I know he had at least many as 29 grandsons and granddaughters (I'm still finding them), that some of those branches of the tree, instead of spreading towards my home-town, instead spread in the direction of Whitehaven, Oswaldtwistle and perhaps Bolton, whilst others remained in and around Burton and Thornton.

(I even know there was a strong possibility that Altham was pronounced Alt-ham rather than Al-tham.)

So with the advent of the good ol' tinterweb, you'd think I'd have a great chance of finding out some more about him, and perhaps even getting to grips with Thomas and his ancestors.

So, I google James Altham Batty, and what do I get?

Nothing, natch, nada!

Nor even for Baty, Batey, Batie, Battey, Battey, Battye or even Battie.

Well, of course I get loads, but nothing on J.A.

However, one name crops ups with startling regularity - Aegidy Batty, born about 1688 in Clapham, Yorkshire - barely 7 miles from Burton.

What a COOL name!!!

Do YOU know ANYONE called Aegidy?!?!?!?

What's more, Aegidy can be traced patrilineally at least 110 years further back to John Battie in the 1570s, and (tantalisingly) another path goes back to a Agnes Altham!

Yet others reach to the 1530s... stating the obvious, I know, but that's almost 500 years!

And the related family lines? There's the Irwin family, the Aland family, the Henrie family, the Smith family, the Stubbs family... it seems just about everyone in the WORLD is related to Aegidy, but can I find a connection?

Can I eckers like... and it's my blinking name!!!

I'm beginning to wonder if I exist.

Is There a Doctor in the House? (II)


I had one of those milestone-moments today, of a medical variety.

I've had a sore shoulder for a couple of days, like you do, but this was a bit more annoying and inconvenient than usual, and to be honest I was just a bit concerned about the best course of action in respect of my gym sessions.

Should I work through the pain, or should I give it chance to settle down?

Well, on Monday, the ibuprofen wasn't really touching it, and I decided to make a GP's appointment... today being the first day available for an early slot.

When we first moved to our current address, and therefore had to move GP surgeries, it just so happened that my belle's sister's place of work (a local special school) were registered at the same practice.

So, she knew the senior practice doctor, one Mr. Dewar. He was referred to as "Mr." as his wife - "Mrs." was also a GP at the surgery.

She told told us he was "a lovely doctor", and sure enough he was, just about everything you could wish for in a doctor. A genuinely lovely man.

I say "was", not to indicate any particular sad demise, but simply because about six months ago, Mr. and Mrs. left the practice. Maybe they moved on... they didn't seem to be at retirement age... maybe they are now following another path.

Oh by the way, Mr. Dewar turned out to be Mr. Dua, and was (and doubtless still is) an Indian gentleman.

Anyway, I made my appointment, and being the first since the Duas left, I was scheduled to see one of the new doctors - namely Dr. Cameron.

Well that's what the lady on the phone said.

Turns out the practice seems to have policy of employing "Indian" doctors with confusingly Scottish-sounding names, as Dr. Cameron is actually a similarly southern Asian gentleman by the name of Dr. Kamran.

And I'll tell you what, he's from the same school of lovely doctoring as Dr. Dua, if this morning was anything to go by. Really impressed!

(By the way... do you suppose there's a surgery somewhere in Mumbai where Dr. McAgee practices?)

I did notice - maybe this will change - that he calls only the patient's surname when it is their turn, and he called mine...

...but I wasn't quick enough out of the blocks, as a fellow patient of the female persuaion beat me to it.

Anyway, shortly after she re-emerged, I was called by my full name.

Dr. Kamran introduced himself, shook my hand and apologised for keeping me waiting, and then set about the business at hand.

After a few questions, a bit of manipulation... of course things are never quite so bad as they were when you made the appointment... he gave his diagnosis and recommended treatment.

I'm having muscle spasms, which are the beginnings of an injury, but my treatment is fine as it stands... painkillers and rest - that way it should go away and not become a chronic problem.

He gave me a knowing smile as he suggested I avoid going to the gym for another week!

Mind you, none of that was the milestone-moment.

No... in spite of the millions of years of education and training doctors must undergo before they are let loose in the GP's surgery, Dr. Kamran is quite categorically, in fact undeniably YOUNGER than me!!!

Oh dear.

Anyway... he's a lovely young man... he'll go far.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

All Linuxed up and everywhere to go!

That (below) was, as I said, the main reason for neglecting my blog.

One other reason is releated to the fact that I've finally ditched Windows.

It's taken some doing, and it hasn't been an unmitigated success, of which more later, but the deed is now done.

About a million years ago, I used to have a Commodore Amiga, and whilst I was by no means ever a "techie", I used to have a bit of an idea what I was doing.

Then, after a about 10 or 12 years, Commodore finally pulled the rug out from underneath the Amiga community.

I think they actually went bust, but old Amiga fans will know that they were pretty unspectacular when it came to promoting the BEST home PC of the time, and if they were similarly proficient elsewhere in the business... well p***-ups and breweries come to mind.

But all that was a lo-o-o-ong time ago, and after getting some old gear from work, I knew I would one day replace the average and grossly over-priced OS from the Microsoft stable.

You see, not only was I an Amiga owner, but I'm also a Yorkshireman... and we are, shall we say... er... frugal.

In the dim and distant past was PD, or public domain software, which was available for all kind of games, tools, games, applications, games, creative software, games and indeed, if you looked hard enough, even games.

This was all written by spotty 15 year-olds with a degree in high-level programming from the University of Sitting-in-me-bedroom-24-hours-a-day, and it kept well-adjusted types like mesen* off the streets for longer than was necessarily healthy.

I mean, I could program a bit, but these guys were a godsend to the thrifty.

Of course, you pay a gazillion dollars just for the honour of having MS software fail as if not more often than other software, and I certainly wasn't prepared to fund the Seattle elite any more than I had to.

(Let's just be fair here and applaud Mr. Gates for his genuine philanthropy, which should be recognised and appreciated, but let's not forget, he does own the world, or something!)

So, back to my OS... I knew I was ditching and also the jungle drums suggested that if you ain't gonna buy an AppleMac (Yorkshireman Alert!!!) then why not go Open Source.


So, I got myself a set of Mandrake CDs (rather than download on 56K dial-up) and took the plunge.

And then panicked on the installation when it said; you're about to wipe everything - press yes to blow up the world, or something along those lines.

I persevered with Windows for a few more weeks, while in the meantime dusting off some of those long-forgotten brain cells that used to know a bit about computers, and tried to get the lowdown on Linux.

Then, about three weeks before Christmas I came across a Linux Format magazine that came with Red Hat Fedora 6 and step-by-step instructions on loading.

Not only that, but you could initially set up a dual-boot system, in case you forgot to archive something.

So... me and my good lady set a couple of hours aside, and started this new installation...

Only to find out that I hadn't got enough partition space for dual boot, and couldn't remember my admin accesses to change the settings!!!

I HAD to over-write.


OK, get everything saved off that I'm likely to want to keep...


Attempt three.

We did it... we got there... we filled in some of the missing steps in the step-by-step instructions, and hey presto... new Linux OS!!!


Er... hang on... my modem doesn't work.

Turns out, it wasn't a real modem, but a WinModem.

After a bit of swotting, a trip to PC World was called for, and fair dos, they lined me up with a Linux compatibale modem.

Which I plugged in... and... nothing.

For three days I wracked over this, before it finally occurred to me I had entered the wrong phone number!!!

Finally, finally, finally, I put everything right, and as you can see by these two recent posts, I'm back online.

But, as I said... is wasn't a wholly unmitigated success.

I distinctly remember save all my birding database records off as spreadsheets... but I don't as distinctly remember copying them to CD.

Either I've lost the CD... or... erm, oops... I've lost my data.

I fear it's the latter!

Ah well...

Oh yeah... and that same "CD" is the one my email address book is on... so to any of my buddies who read this, and still have my email address... would you kindly send me a message so I can get going again.

Technology... dont'cha jus' love it!

* for the non-Yorkshire fluent, this = myself

In the family way.

Hmmm... s'been a while hasn't it!

Well the intervening break was caused as much by lack of inspiration as anything else, but also the nights began to draw in, got busy (well busiER) at work, other things came up, yada yada yada... you know the routine.

I heard something on the radio recently suggesting that there are [insert number here] billion dormant blogs cluttering up the old tinterweb thingy, and figured I ought to spring mine back into life.

So, what's been a-happenin'?

First of all, well, in fact most of all, I caught genealogy.

It's something I've fancied doing for a while (I mean for years and years) but never really knew how and where to start, nor managed to get into gear.

The first series of "Who Do You Think You Are?" got me thinking again... but not acting. However the second series was the spur.

Actually, that's not strictly correct. It is true that directly after watching episode one (Barbara Windsor) I just upped myself off the sofa and hit the old cybervault, but that was just the initial kick up the backside.

After forking out for some credits (the main thing that stopped me in the past) the first thing I did was to check the "Who lived at your address 100 years ago?" list.

Oh... OK, no-one did as our house has only been around for 5 years or so, but I racked my brains for previous addresses that were good candidates. That drew a blank also, but my thoughts turned to my maternal grandparents.

A little insight here... family tree research is a little tricky for me, as there is something of a lack of rellies upon whom I can rely for snippets of information.

Both my parents died some time ago (although my mother during here life was helpful in a typically backhanded sort of a way... she was great - mums just are - but she was a funny woman!) all my grandparents are likewise departed, and although both my parents had a supply of siblings, they are either similarly unavailable for comment, or else difficult to speak to.

I admit that last barrier is somewhat self-inflicted as I am naturally shy with people I don't know well (some of you will understand not knowing family well!) and also... well, it would be too strong to say I am the black-sheep, but there was a particular time when I didn't tow the family-line, shall we say.

OK... I changed my name.

Didn't go down well in some quarters!

So... what do I have to go on.

First of all, the family myth that I am descended from Oliver Cromwell.

As a member of a large internet forum, I was finally in a position to put that to the test by the simple expedient of asking.

Turns out my mum's maiden name was Ireson, and that was somehow Cromwell's name.

Well, the myth was not immediately shattered, but a fairly sizable blow was struck, though some light was cast.

Cromwell's sister married Henry Ireton (not Ireson) - well did mum say Ireson or Ireton?

Sure enough, my maternal grandmother's death is registered under the name Ireton, so the myth has legs?

Well, no... it seems that a) that was the only time the name Ireton was used, she was born Ireson, and b) Mr. and Ms. Cromwell were "without issue".

Hey ho, there you go.

Who's up for reporting "a)" to the family?

Anyway, back to who lived where 100 years ago. Well as I type "100" years ago is actually 105 and a half years ago - that is to say, the 1901 census.

Neither of my maternal grandparents were born then, but maybe my ggps lived there???

Er, no...

But up the street, lived someone I was able to form a link to... that's what really got me hooked!

When we used to visit my gps, we very occasionally would visit someone unknown to me (I was about 6) "up the street".

Well according to the 1901 census, there was a household up the street with the same surname as my grandfather (not unusual) but with a couple of lodgers, one of whom was the brother-in-law of the grandfather-like-named "head" of the household, with the same two forenames as mum's dad (VERY unusual!).

I have no documentary evidence (yet) as definitive proof, but I will hang every hat I have on that being the ggps.

Oh... one other nugget of information provided by my mother. My middle name is "Christopher", and I was so named after "Uncle Jack, who everyone called John, but whose real name was Percy". I kid you not.

Yep... Percy was alive and kicking in that household in 1901.

And from there, I've been able to go back about 5 generations. Pretty cool!

On my dad's side, I had almost zero information, other than his mum's name was "Annie" and where she came from.

Even so... back about 8 gens there to the late 1700s.

Not discovered any potential inheritance yet, though!

Anyway, while we're at it, I might as well regale you with the latest piece of emabarrassing behaviour that's causing amusement amongst various family members with whom I am still on speaking terms.

I was showing my daughter what I'd done, and she asked if we could search for her mum (my ex).

I said OK...

Right you have to get in my head a bit here, but go with it.

Ah... but mum wasn't born in the UK, so she won't be on... OK marriage to new hubby... ah, no, they got married in the US, so they won't be on... oh, but was that just a celebration and the legal wedding happened in Britain?

Let's have a look...

Ah... there she is look, marriage registration!

Hang on... that says 1987? Daughter born in 1990...

"Who in earth was your mum married to before you were born??? Oh... that'll be me!"


That last bit I actually said out loud, and as I recall, my daughter actually held here head in her hands.

She's proud of me.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Is There a Doctor in the House?

This will be old news to some readers who know me, and as I originally posted nearly 4 years ago, the numbers are probably out of date.

Also, the database has changed slightly, but you should be able to verify most, if not all of the following GPs on the GPs Register.

If you are in the UK, you can check your Doctor's credentials on www.gmc-uk.org from the current list of approximately 200,000 GMC Doctors.

Of course, your Doctor might be Dr. Smith – but there are 1166 of those - or Dr. Jones (1183) – perhaps Dr. Singh (443) or Dr. Patel (741).

However things could be much more interesting. Sometimes some people seem simply to be suited to their profession – or perhaps not!

From the very same list (name followed by how many)…

Famous Doctors.

Dr. Watson 344 (Elementary!)
Dr. Foster 145 (but only 2 in Gloucester)
Dr. Robert 5 (Beatles fans)
Dr. McCoy 7 (no Leonard's)
Dr. Hoo 3 (well it's close!)

Good Doctors.

Whilst those of a certain age will know of Dr. Kiss Kiss, I could not find any of those but…

Dr. Kiss 3
Dr. Love 32

You'll feel at ease with…

Dr. Nice 3
Dr. Pleasant 1
Dr. Friend 12
Dr. Lovely 1

And of course, what could possibly go wrong when you visit…

Dr. Cure 1
Dr. Safe 3
Dr. Nurse 4
Dr. Doctor 3

You'll feel secure with…

Dr. Secrett 1

But perhaps a little confused with…

Dr. Patient 5

Specialist Doctors.

Maybe you have a particular ailment. Then a visit to one of the following (in roughly descending order) might help.

Dr. Hair 2
Dr. Head 24
Dr. Brain 24
Dr. Skull 2
Dr. Ruth 2 (the shrink!)
Dr. Bone 22
Dr. Smallbone 1
Dr. Limb 6
Dr. Hand 18
Dr. Hands 8
Dr. Lung 2
Dr. Liver 1
Dr. Back 4
Dr. Bottom 1
Dr. Belli 2
Dr. Tumi 1
Dr. Willy 1
Dr. Kneebone 5
Dr. Legg 10
Dr. Foot 9

If your time is precious, choose carefully between…

Dr. Quick 6
Dr. Slowe 2

Ones to avoid?

Perhaps it is in the best interests of your clean bill of health not to visit…

Dr. Bugg 3

And maybe steer clear of…

Dr. Beer 16
Dr. Beere 1
Dr. de Beer 13
Dr. Beers 1
Dr. Wines 1
Dr. Winer 1
Dr. Ginn 2
Dr. Ginns 2
Dr. Drinkall 1


Dr. Low-Beer 3
Dr. Drinkwater 5
Dr. Waterdrinker 1

…and of course…

Dr. Sober 1

Under no circumstances whatsoever should you visit…

Dr. Pain 10
Dr. Hurt 2
Dr. Risk 3
Dr. Blood 2
Dr. Cutter 3
Dr. Fear 4
Dr. Crack 1
Dr. Crackett 1
Dr. Scarr 2
Dr. Scarabelli 1
Dr. Grave 1
Dr. Gash 4
Dr. Slaughter 1
Dr. Coffin 4
Dr. De'ath 1
Dr. Kille 1
Dr. Heaven 3
Dr. Hell 1

Wrong Profession?

Maybe give these a miss as well.

Dr. Catt 1
Dr. Rabbitt 2
Dr. Woof 1
Dr. Goose 2
Dr. Gander 1
Dr. Duck 4 (and yes... one is called Donald!)

Friday, August 04, 2006


Like many people, I like sport.

I used to play football, and loved it, but now get most of my pleasure vicariously by watching all those sporting heroes.

My virtual sports of choice, roughly in order of preference, are Formula 1, Winter Sports, Football, Track and Field Athletics and Cycling.

Trouble is, of those five, it is hard almost beyond measure to enjoy them as I would like.

Just prior to le Tour, pro-cycling received (at the time) the latest in a long and undistinguished line of drug-related scandal.

The UCI named 56 of it’s members as drug cheats , with damning enough evidence that T-Mobile and Team CSC withdrew their No. 1 riders and event favourites, Jan Ullrich (1997 Tour de France Winner and 5 time Runner-up, 1999 Vuelta a España Winner) and Ivan Basso (2006 Giro d’Italia Winner) respectively, from the Tour. Other riders of major standing were also withdrawn.

Nevertheless, le Tour went ahead, the event being bigger than any of the competitors, and one of the most open an exciting Tours in recent history ensued.

Floyd Landis finally, and remarkably, on account of the osteonecrosis in his hip, took the Maillot Jaune on the Champs Elysees. His intention after the three-week race was to schedule in the hip-replacement operation he needs.

Due to his condition, Landis has special dispensation from the UCI to take an otherwise banned painkiller.

Then the news emerges that Landis fails a drug-test during the race!

Apparently abnormally high levels of testosterone were found in his system. Landis protests his innocence, but is the sport now irreparably damaged?

How is it possible for me to believe Landis on the back of Operacion Puerto?

For that matter, it is in some cases known and in others highly suspected that pro-cyclists have used performance-enhancing methods (drugs, hormones, blood-doping etc.) throughout their careers.

So, as much as I want to, how can I believe Lance Armstrong, who has never failed a drug test, when he says that he is “clean”. And let’s not get precious about it. How can I believe the British cyclists? David Millar, who took part in this year’s Tour, has confessed to using EPO in 2001 and 2003

Cycling’s reputation (if it had one!) is shattered – at least in my eyes.

So, we’ll move onto Track and Field, because only in the last week Justin Gatlin – the joint World Record holder for 100m – has failed a drugs test, and is likely to be stripped of his times and recent titles, before being banned… for his second offence!

Gatlin (not surprisingly) claims innocence, but then he is under the tutelage of Trevor Graham – coach of eight other athletes who have tested positive for drugs, a total that includes 6 World Champions and a World Record holder.

Britain’s record? Well, for example, Dwain Chambers, reputation potentially in tatters as part of the BALCO scandal, has just retuned to competition following a two-year drugs ban.

We all “knew” in the bad old days of the Eastern Bloc that Soviet and Eastern European athletes’ abilities were “enhanced”. We were fine singing from atop our high horses, weren’t we!!!

And so once again, how can I – Joe Public – possibly trust a single athlete on the world (or perhaps even junior) stage?

Athletics is hanging on by a thread, in my opinion, and needs to buck its ideas up quickly before it is viewed with the same mistrust as Cycling, assuming it’s not already too late.

Football next, I guess.

Whilst there seems to be less evidence of performance enhancing drug taking in “The Beautiful Game”, its reputation is getting closer to the brink as it seems to be played almost entirely by either thugs or cheats.

Often, this action is put down to the young age of many of the top players, but
a) increasing age rarely seems to effect the onset of increasing fair play and
b) their team managers often positively condone the actions of the players.

As a consequence, the major tournaments are more about who dives, jostles the referee, feigns injury, waves imaginary red and yellow cards, and less about any beauty in the game whatsoever.

Of my list, this leaves Winter Sport (a bit of a catch-all I know) and F1.

Winter Sports might be minor in comparison to the previous activities (even cycling) but that hasn’t inhibited the methods of the cheats.

Biathlon and Cross-country Skiing are endurance winter events, and there have been recent occurrences of athletes failing drug-tests, whilst other events have had their (un)fair share.

It means that at the back of my mind, there is always this nagging doubt about whose will be the next heroic performance that is drug-fuelled.

So maybe the last bastion of fair play is the F1 Circus?

Drug-cheating is probably (probably!) non-existent but that doesn’t mean they’re all good-guys.

When the driver who is arguably the greatest of all time (although not in my opinion) cannot but stop himself from downright breaking the rules by parking his car acrros the track during qualifying (thereby protecting his own best time) – well what hope for sporting endeavour, sporting greatness.

What hope for the genuine sportsperson?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Wedding Singer

Went to a wedding on Saturday.

I was a hanger-on really, as it was the wedding of my partner's nephew and his fiancée.

I'm not good at social occasions, and it also meant I missed out on Doncaster Rovers' friendly against Real Sociedad (we won 1-0 by the way), Fish-o-Mania at Hayfield Lakes and... er... oh yes... my daughter's 16th birthday!

Bu-u-u-ut, I wouldn't've gone to the footy anyway, fishing is a big yawn to me, and daughter's birthday bash is not until the 15th of August... although actually closer to her birthday than in previous years.

Anyway, the bride's family are Scottish-Canadian, one of her bridesmaids (and family) are Sri Lankan, the groom's family on his mother's side are Irish, and one of the hymns they chose was...


As we belted out "... in England's green and pleasant land" I felt the Empire was in fine fettle.

Of course, when I say "belted", well it was that kind of singing you get in churches when people attend once a celebration... all croaks and missed notes, and selfconsciousness, because you can only actually hear yourself, and maybe the person next to you if they are particularly forthright - unless, of course, you happen to be Sri Lankan, and are faced with C of E hymns for probably the first time in your life, in which case you can doubtless hear everyone else, and must wonder if they've ever sung in their lives before!!!

And the thing is... probably not much.

As a rule, we don't sing.

OK, the story goes that we all sing in the shower, but I'm sure I don't. Nor does my partner. (In fact, I object to being spoken to in the shower as a response, if required, usually results in choking on half a pint of tepid soap-water.)

And whilst I confess I don't make a habit of entering people's salles de douche whilst they are showering as such... I'm not convinced they are any more vocally persuaded than I.

I guess there's the tuneless humming we sometimes elicit, as required, to inform others this particular cubicle in the public convenience is occupied, even though there is no actual lock to avail one of the opportunity to indicate as such by more conventional, mechanical means, but that doesn't really count, and besides, more often than not, that is tuneless whistling.

But actually me?
Well, I am a singer.

At the end of the reception of said wedding above, one of the groom's mother's sisters, came up to me and complimented me on my singing all the words to all the songs played by the DJ.

I was lucky to a point, as most were from my era, but still, if I say so myself, I knew pretty well most of them all the way through, including (perhaps a little less impressively) "Jeans On" by David Dundas.

And that's it you see... I love singing.

I don't sing in the shower, but I do sing in the car - big style! - and... I sing at work (frequently being "asked" to shut up!).

I'd like to say they don't appreciate a good thing when they hear it, but... erm... truth be told, they have a point.

You see, my fan from earlier in this post could see me singing, but couldn't actually hear me. It has to be said that this may have had some bearing on the level of her appreciation.

But, what I lack in talent, I make up for in enthusiasm.

I'm VERY enthusiastic!!!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Work and other curious pastimes.

I’ve got a new boss/department head at work.

He’s been with us a few weeks, but due to his induction course, meetings at our Norwegian Head Office, my two week leave and sundry other inconveniences, we hardly spoke more than a couple of pleasantries until he returned from said Norwegian sojourn.

So, a couple of Monday’s ago, he made a point of coming to see me with a view to scheduling a “getting to know you” chat.

Him: “Good Morning!”

Me: “Good Morning. How was Norway?”

Him: “Very Norwegian…”

We’ll come to the completion of that sentence later.

In January 2005, I was called upon to attend a couple of meetings in Norway myself, over a couple of days and therefore meaning an overnight stay.

Of course that imposes upon the hosts to make some sort of arrangements to “entertain” their guests for the evening.

Four of us were going, although just three of us travelled together, the fourth having arrived earlier in the week.

The trip was some weeks in the planning, and so a regular contact (and colleague) of mine in the Norwegian office, whom we shall call “Ingrid”, because that’s her name, had (half-jokingly?) suggested she take me skiing.

I’m sure I had mentioned in the past that I enjoyed skiing very much – to watch – but I had never so much as gone near a pair of skis in my life, never mind actually practiced the art!

Nevertheless, and I hope not too eagerly, I jumped at the opportunity, thereby committing Ingrid into taking a complete novice out on to the white stuff.

I should point out that this was Nordic (cross-country) rather than Alpine (downhill) so I was perfectly safe.

A little closer to the occasion, about the day before I think, I let Ingrid know that one of my companions, whom we shall call “John”, because that’s his name, was also keen to come. John had done some skiing before, but only Alpine, if I recall correctly.

My other two colleagues, whom we shall not name because they’re a pair of big wusses decided not to join us. (Actually, Ingrid may have breathed a secret sigh of relief over this as it meant she didn’t have to scrabble together another two pairs of skis!)

So, we arrived in Norway, actually on the evening prior to the first meeting, had ourselves delivered to the hotel, took a drink at the bar, and then (in my case at least) retired for the night to prepare for being up at some ungodly hour the next morning.

Ungodly o’clock unduly arrived and I went down to the breakfast room for Barely-awake thirty, to fuel up for the day. I seem to recall the fayre was very pleasant indeed. At least that’s what I remember from between the snoring.

Breakfast taken, it was back to my room to get ready for our taxi to take us the short trip to the office in time to start our day, Norwegian-style, at the hour of What-time-do-you-call-this. (I think it is generally known as eight o’clock, but that might be a scurrilous rumour.)

Everyone assembled, our meeting started – our attention maintained and concentration sustained by copious coffee and biscuits.

By 11:00am I am just about coming round, when it is universally decided that it is lunchtime!

We are escorted down to the canteen, with an easterly aspect over the fjord, and partake of a very unusual lunch.

Most of the food was recognisable, but it was just somehow very strange. I joined in the spirit by serving myself some fish, a poached egg, some processed cheese and a piece of toast with a glass of milk.

Replete, and with a little time to spare, it was an opportunity to shake hands with a few familiar faces (shake their hands, that is, not their faces!), and to put faces to a few familiar names, before returning to the office for the after(only just)noon session.

More coffee-fuelled work, until at about 1:30pm moves are afoot for a waffle-break. These people never stop eating, it seems!

Sure enough, by two of the clock, sweet warm waffles have arrived (about a million) accompanied by processed brown goats’ cheese. (The cheese was brown, I am unable to confirm the colour of the goats.) Another odd combination… but when in Rome…

(Mind you… the Romans eat pizza!)

The early start meant an early finish, at least for we guests, and so approaching four in the afternoon, plans were being hatched for the evening.

Our hosts had decided to take us to the Kukuriet (spelt from memory) for the evening meal. I must say the food was rather excellent, as indeed was the company. I don’t recall the entire menu, but I took advantage of the opportunity to try Reindeer, which of course I would find difficult to track down in Blighty.

(I’ve since discovered that I could have gone to the Reindeer Inn about 12 miles from where I live, between home and work, which specialises in Reindeer, apparently!)

My starter was something fishy-soupy and jolly tasty, and Rudolph arrived, sans antlers, in a blackcurrant sauce with various fried accompaniments.

(You must excuse me while I wipe up the drool.)

Ingrid, although not part of the meeting, had joined us, because we arrived at the restaurant hot-foot from our skiing adventure, which, I can now inform you, is the pertinent subject of this particular dissertation.

Yes, the skiing.

Although it was the back-end of January, this part of southern Norway hadn’t been blessed with what the locals count as snow, there being barely an inch of the stuff lying on the ground.

Nevertheless, Ingrid had a plan.

She supplied myself and John with ski-boots, and arrived at the hotel in her car, with the skis and poles in the back, and the rear split-seat half lowered to accommodate said equipment.

Now, if my memory serves me, I was to use some skis Ingrid had borrowed from a colleague, whom we shall call “Tor”, because I can’t remember what his name really is and that was the first Norwegian one I could think of, John was to use Ingrid’s skis and Ingrid was to use her (tall) husband’s.

There are reasons for this, partly to do with the boots, (certain types of ski only go with certain types of boot), and partly to do with correlating height with ski length.

Now remember that, because it comes up again soon. (Hopefully, I’ve remembered it right, but frankly, it’s a wonder I can remember anything at all!!!)

Anyway, we all climb in to Ingrid’s car. Ingrid (about 5 feet 5) driving, of course, John (similar height) alongside, me (6 feet) in the back.

I moved the football out of the footwell, and then noticed the seat had something of a booster on it. So I tried to fold it down… no… OK back… no… ri-i-i-ght, sideways then… hmmmph… I know, I’ll lift it off… no… er… oh.

Wanting to avoid, in equal measure, sounding rude and sounding like an idiot, I took the option of sitting on the booster, and merely looking like an idiot, with my head cocked to one side and shoulders hunched up under the car roof. If you’ve seen DJ Spiller in the phone box in the “Groovejet” video, you’ll get the picture! (I’ve since found out that Ingrid, who didn’t notice during either car journey, found the seat boosted a few days later, remembered I must’ve been sitting on it, and had fits of laughter imagining how I must’ve looked.)

We drove out of town to a ski run at a place called Stokke. It just so happened, that in spite of the lack of snow, there was a prepared track for an upcoming competition.

In good snow conditions, there are extensive runs that travel through the forest, but at this time just a 1 km circular track had been prepared.

We arrived, to find there were a good few people already there, including one of the local ski clubs out training, some of whose members were on the other side of 12 from me, it appeared.

The weather was superb skiing weather (for a Brit) and I was fully kitted up with thermals and gloves and hat and numerous layers.

We attached skis, which was a challenge in itself, and made our way onto the circuit.

The start of the route was straight, and so tracks were cut into the snow for placement of skis. In classical Nordic style, on the straight, the skis are progressed forward through a combination of leg thrusts and arm pushes, and (can) stay completely within the tracks.

The track itself undulated, but, as expected, was generally flat.

Now the Norwegian attitude (or is it Ingrid’s attitude?) to “I’ve never skied before in my life” is “Go on, you’ll be fine”!

So I set off.

It took me about thirty yards to fall over.

Ingrid (kindly) said it was because I had the wrong kind of wax on my skis.

I picked myself up, and continued, fell over again, couldn’t stop laughing, and carried on in this vein, repeating the sequence numerous times, for another 40 yards or so.

On about the 763rd fall, Ingrid (I think she had caught me up again after completing a lap) noticed that the “catch” on one of my skis was missing, presumed broken. (Their owner, Tor, later said it was missing all along. I think he was being nice.) Ingrid decided the best solution was to change skis.

Now this is where it gets really complicated!

After all the change-arounds, I ended up with Ingrid’s skis (Ingrid’s skis wouldn’t go with John’s boots) – right wax, professional skis, too short. John ended up with Ingrid’s husband’s skis – right wax, professional skis, too long. Ingrid ended up with Tor’s skis – wrong wax, beginner’s skis, wrong length.

OK… we made our way to the end of the straight.

On a corner, the ski action changes to more of a skating action, and so the cut ski-tracks are no use and disappear.

Of course, this means I have to get round the hairpin corner without assistance. Now, to be fair, I managed this, although rather in the style of Bambi on stilts!

Oh, by the way, you should be aware that all this time, everyone else is ripping past me (and John) at about 50 miles per hour – no exaggeration!

So we negotiate the bend, and the tracks begin again, at the head of a double-crested slope.

Hang on! I thought this was going to be flat! This was like skiing off a four-storey house!!!

Well, John went first, and much to his credit he successfully negotiated the drop, coming to a stop a few (hundred?) yards ahead.

Right, my turn.

Never been on skis before, remember!

I slowly push off.

Hey! This is alright!

OK, I’m a bit wobbly, for sure, but I think I’m going to make it.

Erm… wait a moment, I don’t know how to stop.

John is still in the tracks ahead of me… about a mile ahead of me it is true, but I don’t seem to be slowing down.

I took the self-sacrificial decision to deliberately fall.

Well, deliberate or not, I still couldn’t get up. Cross-country ski poles are about 9 feet long (with a four inch nails in the end, by the way!) and absolutely useless for getting up with. Well at least in my hands.

Nine year old kids are tearing past me, hurdling my flailing limbs, while Ingrid and John do the best to help me to my feet.

After some struggle, this mission is accomplished, and we complete the lap, which entails ascending a similarly house-sized slope to get back to our starting position.

“Do we want to go round again?” asks Ingrid.

Well, of course we do!!!!

So John and I set of on lap 2, Ingrid on lap 835.

This top straight stretch is a doddle now, now that I’ve got the right wax! Only fell twice!

Now the hairpin.

Well, I fell to the inside, got my skis crossed one way and my legs crossed the other and my poles crossed a third.

John is standing perhaps eight feet away, and said with all seriousness, and all honesty (albeit laughing his head off!) “I’d like to help you but I can’t get to you.”

Ingrid is off on another lap.

Fortunately, after about twenty minutes, I manage to untangle myself. My limbs are getting rather tired now, and I don’t have a prayer of levering myself up. But, help is at hand, as there is a large metal mesh of the type used to reinforce concrete that I can use as a support.

It takes a while, but I’m typing now, so I must’ve managed it.

We (me and John) stagger around the corner, and reach the top of “that” slope again.

John goes first again.

Now John did fall a couple of times on the course, it is true, but I think he managed the slope both times without incident.

My turn now. And now I know what I’m doing!

So, I push off.

Hands low and forward, I feel like I’m doing 100 miles an hour (although I suspect it was nearer 20), trying to keep my centre of gravity down.

Bit wobbly, but I’ll be OK as soon as I’ve cleared this second cre… WHHHHOOOOOOAAAAA!!!!!!!

As this crest lipped up, I lost my balance and went careening through the air. I distinctly remember looking “down” at my skis, only to realise that I’m looking up at them against a background of sky!

I am told there was much clear air between me and the snow.

I came crashing down, lost both poles and I think one ski (although I’m a bit hazy about he precise details) and ripping the backside out of my overtrousers. Fortunately dignity, such as it was, was preserved by the remaining layers.

At this point John from the bottom, and Ingrid from the top arrived to ensure I was OK… but they were absolutely killing themselves laughing!

I was uninjured – I mean, I had so much padding on you could’ve hit me with a truck and I wouldn’t’ve felt it – so after gathering together all my belongings and most of my faculties, we struggled up the final incline to complete lap two. Or 848 for Ingrid.

There wasn’t time for another round, so we headed back to the town and on to our aforementioned dinner date, where, of course, much fun was enjoyed, particularly by myself, regaling everyone else with my escapade.

Without doubt, my skiing experience was quite the most exhilarating and quite the most ridiculously stupid thing I have ever done in my life – and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Anyway, I’ve got a new boss/department head at work.

He’s been with us a few weeks, but due to his induction course, meetings at our Norwegian Head Office, my two week leave and sundry other inconveniences, we hardly spoke more than a couple of pleasantries until he returned from said Norwegian sojourn.

So, a couple of Monday’s ago, he made a point of coming to see me with a view to scheduling a “getting to know you” chat.

Him: “Good Morning!”

Me: “Good Morning. How was Norway?”

Him: “Very Norwegian… I heard about your skiing!”