Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Capoeira Canal Christmas Roda

My capoeira teacher, Monitor Risadinha (Jacob is his real name, Risadinha is his Capoeira apelido - once you get to certain standard you get 'baptized' and given a nickname. Monitor is his 'grade') is on a plane to Brazil as I write, for a three week holiday and to train with an academy out there, and last night we had our final lesson of the year with him. So we decided to make it a bit of an occasion, especially as it coincides with the two year anniversary of the school, Capoeira Canal, which is a good achievement for Jacob.

The class followed a slightly different format to normal. Usually, we warm up together, then the beginners and intermediates split for the majority of the class, and we get back together at the end for a little roda. The roda (Portuguese for 'wheel') is the circle of people and instruments, within which two people play Capoeira. It is the whole point of Capoeira, really. Anyway usually we just have a little roda at the end of the class, lasting 20-30 minutes, everybody has one quick game, and that's it. Yesterday, however, as it was a special occasion, we had decided in advance to start the roda early and have a 'proper' one. So after a quick warm up we got the instruments out and started playing.

It was great. My capoeira has improved loads and now I feel confident enough to not embarrass myself, and I really enjoy playing the instruments and singing also. Towards the end of a roda the music speeds up, the capoeira speeds up, and the whole thing becomes really engrossing - especially when you're watching two really good capoeiristas play a game, it's spellbinding. It's also amazing how fast the time goes, I had barely had two games before I glanced up at the clock and realised an hour had gone and I was unlikely to get another, as time was running out. Ah well. Still a brilliant evening, which we discussed and washed down with a couple of pints afterwards. Very nice indeed.

So now I'm really enthused for Capoeira and, fortunately, classes are continuing, despite Jacob being away. For the next couple of weeks we have some intructors from our 'parent' school (i.e. Jacob's old school) the London School of Capoeira coming to take the next two Monday classes, so it will be interesting to see how their teaching methods differ to Jacob's. Cool beans.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Katherine Schirrmacher article

Katherine Schirrmacher, who recently recently has been signed up for the Moon climbing team, has written a short article for moonclimbing.com, "10 ways to revamp your climbing".

It is only a few hundred words long and yet I can't think of any other article that contains so much excellent information that is so concisely written and expressed.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Portland sport climbing

It's been a busy weekend so I'm treating you to two posts in one day, you lucky things! Saturday morning found me loitering outside Hammersmith at some god-forsaken hour, waiting to picked up by Paul Mac on the way to Portland. We picked up Paul Mealor on the way, and after boring them to tears telling them just how good Casino Royal is, we met Darcy for breakfast in the Blue Fish cafe at Fortuneswell (nice place, incidentally, good food, though a little overpriced for what you get) at around 10.30.

The slightly late start suited us nicely actually, as it meant the sun had time to get round onto the Blacknor crags on the west coast (see pic), where many of the routes are a decent 28-30m long, so you really feel like you're getting your money's worth on every route. The last time I did any proper climbing was in the Wye Valley with Alastair in September, so it was good to get back on the rock again. I climbed with Darcy and we did several routes around the 6a-6c range, all very pleasant - yet the problem with this cliff is that all the routes follow the same pattern: 5m of heaving on dusty jugs, 10-15m of delicate conglomerate balancing, followed by 5m of really good clean limestone at the top. As a result the routes feel rather similar to each other, even though they are very good if considered individually.

So we spent a night in the old lighthouse (now a bird-watchers haunt) and got up bright and early (well, ish), and set off for The Cuttings, where the route of the day for me was The Cutting Edge, which I was quite chuffed to onsight, especially given that I've been off climbing for the last few months. Then I went and burst my bubble with a fall off New Saladin, though I wasn't too miffed as it was a juggy pump-fest, a bit more fitness would have dispatched it. So another good day was had by all. Special commendation should go to Macca who is a having a bit of a purple-patch at the moment, it seems that a summer off has done him good and he's come back with a vengeance. Oh yeah and props go to Paul Mealor who red-pointed his first 7a during his recent visit to Thailand!

And I'm really pleased because I had a brilliant weekend which has relit my passion and enthusiasm for rock climbing. Roll on some decent training over the winter, I'm looking forward to Easter at Pembroke already...

Casino Royal review

For some time, I have had a suspicion that the Sunday Times' chief film reviewer, Cosmo Landesman, doesn't actually know what makes a good film. Perhaps, if I were to be more polite, I would say that my opinion of what makes a good film differs from his. Either way, the fact is that I now have final conclusive proof that I am right and he is wrong, because the latest James Bond film, Casino Royal, is the best film I've seen all year, and certainly one of the best Bond films ever made.

Short of Tomorrow Never Dies, the more recent Bond efforts have been, if not completely pathetic, then largely forgettable. This is probably due to the fact that they ran out of Ian Fleming's books to convert to films some time ago, and so the films have relied on action and gadgets to get by. For Casino Royal, this isn't the case, because it is a remake of the original film, and based on the book of the same name - the first ever James Bond book. As a result, the film is very very different to almost every Bond film, with our hero being a slightly naive raw recruit (albeit one with an ego the size of Vauxhall Cross) who has just been promoted to his new title of 007. We get to see how the plot of the film moulds Bond gradually; tellingly, the famous Bond theme tune only appears right at the very end of the film, perhaps indicating that only then has transformed into the character that we have seen over the years. The scenario is given a clever twist by the film being set in the modern day, with internet, wireless communication and computers featuring heavily.

Daniel Craig is excellent in the main role, although I think he was lucky with the situation - the whole point of the film is that this 007 is very different to the more experienced one we have seen so many times before, so he had some license to stamp his own mark on the character. The rest of the acting is adequate, although it occasionally hampered by the slightly clunking script, which rather overstates the plot in case any thickos are watching and don't get it. In a way, though, this is a compliment to the plot which drives the movie at a relentless pace and high level of tension. Constantly twisting and turning, and with several factions all playing against each other, it is the plot that really raises this Bond effort high above the bar.

I haven't even mentioned the action sequences - - but quite frankly I needn't bother. Even if they were rubbish (they're not - one of them Djanira thought was the best chase scene she'd ever seen, the others all having you on the edge of your seat) it wouldn't really matter. Go and see this film, I can guarantee that you will enjoy it. Unless, of course, your name is Cosmo Landesman.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Viva date

I have received word for the date of my PhD viva - 2pm on Tuesday 30th January 2007. I'm not sure whether I'm happy/scared/excited/nervous/relieved or what. Probably a mix of everything. My fingers are sweating now just thinking about it!

Monday, November 13, 2006

New Zealand vs. the rest of the world

Just too good. I managed to catch the second half of the France/NZ game at the weekend, and to be honest it was really rather depressing. France are currently the number 2 team in the world rankings, yet they were completely and utterly outclassed by a New Zealand side that just does everything right. For 20 minutes, I saw France sit on the NZ 22, trying everything, using every trick they could think of to break the All-Black line. They might as well have been throwing pebbles at a concrete wall. A sea of black shirts soaked it all up, without appearing to make any effort, before quite casually stealing the ball and running in another try from their own half. If they can maintain this form for another 11 months, for the rest of us can only aspire to second place in the World Cup.

The rest of the weekend's rugby was more pleasant viewing. A second string Wales eased passed the Pacific Islands without actually playing a very good team game. Yet the signs are promising - if Gareth Jenkins can organize a strong and consistent squad, there's at least a semi-final place for the taking in the World Cup. The Irish gave the 'boks a stuffing, and nobody's ever sad to see that happen. The Scottish had a glorified training day, and poor old England got rolled over at home by a team of amateurs who'd had four days preparation. Personally I'm all for the Argies making the 6-nations the 7-nations. Wales has strong ties with Argentina, and they are only strengthened when they humiliate the old-enemy so!

But, dear-oh-dear, I'm really not looking forward to the 25th of November.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Barcelona and Montserrat **updated photos**

Last weekend Djanira and I returned to Barcelona (rapidly becoming our favourite place to be) for a quick holiday, and to catch up with a few friends. Dan (as in, Dan-I-used-to-live-with-in-Chalk-Farm-Dan) is still living in the city and appears as settled as ever. It was really good to catch up with him; we had some tapas for dinner before going out to meet a few mates for drinks. I still can't believe how cheap Barcelona is compared to London. Everybody out there thinks it's an expensive place, but when three of you can eat as much yummy tapas as you like and drink several glasses of beer/cava in a fantastic small place which has a great vibe, for €50 total, you know you're in the right place. Better still, when we left we got a free shot of any liquor we could see behind the bar - when I saw they had some decent 12y.o. Islay single malt, I very nearly fell off my chair. Awesome.

So we ended up in a bar down in El Raval, which is reknowned somewhat as one of the dodgier areas of the city, but one which is now 'up-and-coming'. In terms of character, it reminded me a little bit of somewhere like Hackney - still dodgy, but with enough cheap cool places opening up to attract a less-rough crowd. Incidentally, you can imagine my shock and disgust at having to pay less than 9 euros for a round of four bottles of beer. That's about £1.50 a bottle, exchange-rate fans. Sigh. Anyway we stayed there til about 1am (just as it was warming up), but felt that we had to leave because we had an earlyish start later in the morning.

So after not-enough-sleep and quick breakfast, we caught a cab to the north-east of the city to meet my friends Raquel and Ferran. I met them both in North Wales last spring, at the BMC international climbing meet, and they were kind enough to invite me and DJ over and be our guides for Montserrat. They are both so, so sweet; really friendly and outgoing, and they were fantastic hosts. Unfortunately my injured shoulder (and lack of fitness) precluded us doing any hard climbing, so we just did some walking, and one easy route.

Montserrat is an awesome place. It's basically one big mountain, 45 minutes drive from Barca; it's about the size of the Snowdon massif, but littered with enormous rock faces and (literally) hundreds of 'needles' - rock pillars anywhere from 20 to 200m high. It is a rock climbing mecca and, quite frankly, it puts all of the fuss we in Britain give to our small crags to shame. On saturday we took a 'grand-tour', walking along the whole of the north face, which is Ferran's home-from-home - he even runs a website dedicated to it, which has gradually extended to encompass ther whole of Catalan climbing - check it out at www.caranorte.com, though both your Catalan and Spanish will need to be up to scratch. Saturday night we walked up (in the dark) to some hermit's cave in the middle of the mountain - just big enough to sleep four people and with a breathtaking view out over Barca and the med beyond. Sunday we climbed an easy route but to my shame I backed off the lead on my pitch. The climbing was barely harder than VS but 'protection', such as it was, consisted of rusty old bolt heads that needed to be threaded with a nut. Needless to say, I couldn't spot any small, grey/brown dots hidden among the (grey/brown) pebbly rock and, between you and me, I don't like running out 30m without knowing where the next belay is, especially on unfamiliar rock and with a bad shoulder. So I let Ferran take the lead, which he of course made short work of, and we arrived at the top of needle, with brilliant 360 degree views. Amazing.

The only problem with the whole weekend was the fact that our return flight on Monday was cancelled - that's the third time in a row that this has happened to me! I couldn't believe it! Anyway, we still had a brilliant time, and I shan't imagine that'll be took long until we're back!

DJ's and my photos are now on the web too, here:

Raquel's pics:
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