Thursday, August 28, 2008

More Flashdance pics

Flashdance is the trad highpoint of my climbing career so far, and as it was during the BMC International Meet, I was lucky enough to have professional climbing photographer Alex Messenger snapping away at the time, so here are a few images that he took of the moment.

On the same day he also took a spectacular photo of Jo on Cystisis by Proxy. Such determination!

Incidently, these photos were taken in the very same quarries we went for a wander around on my stag do.

All photos copyright Alex Messenger, 2008.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Despite the release of many excellent titles in recent months, I haven't written about a video game for a while. However, Braid appears to be something rather special. Available for download to your Xbox 360 via the Xbox Live Arcade (a service that has several hundred games, of varying quality, available to download for a few quid each), it is has been exceptionally well received by the gaming press, and thankfully appears to be making its developers some money.

The basic engine of the game is a hark back to classic 2D platformers of the 80s, such as Super Mario World or similar, in which the controllable character (named 'Tim' here) runs backwards and forwards, climbs up and down ladders, and kills enemies by jumping on their heads. So far, so familiar. The crucial difference is that you, as the player, have the ability to reverse time - by holding down a button on your controller, you can rewind everything that has passed since you started each level. What makes it really interesting is that each area of the game introduces different time-bending properties e.g. objects glowing green are immune to your time-reversal powers, and occasionally you can deploy a ring that slows down time in a decreasingly powerful radius surrounding it. In one world time is stationary, but every step you take to the right advances it, and every step to the left reverses it. It turns the game into less of a standard platformer (after all, there is no concept of death or 'lives' - you just reverse time!) and more into a puzzle game, where you have to manipulate switches, platforms, keys, doors and other characters through time.

It is both visually beautiful and thoroughly engrossing to play through, but an extra twist is the story. Presented to you rather basically as a series of short sections of text that flit up on the screen, at first read through it appears that it is a load of sentimental tosh about rescuing a Princess (a la Mario). But upon reaching the end of the final level, you realise there is a darker theme that has been running through the game. A bit of thinking (and background reading) and it becomes clear that the whole thing is an allagory for the development of the nuclear bomb, and of scientists' desire to pursue research, even when it yields such destructive power. Tim, depicted as a rather bland hero, with a mop of unruly hair, shabby suit and red tie, is a scientist researching the bomb, pushing others away from him in his quest, fearful of the outcome, but unable to stop driving himself towards it.

"Now we are all sons of bitches" was the legendary remark made by Kenneth Thomas Bainbridge as he congratulated Oppenheimer and others after they succesfully tested the first nuclear bomb in the American desert. The story of Braid both pays homage and criticises those scientists, wrapping it up into a short yet addictive platform puzzler. Like a good book or film, this is something I'll be fetching down from the (metaphorical) shelf for several years to come.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Road Trip 2008

Well I'm back from my second whirlwind tour of Western Europe this year. This time, however, I was driving instead of flying; although fortunately I had Stephen Fry's reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to keep me company. Highly recommended, the audiobook-while-driving option. Makes the hours fly by.

So anyway there I was last week, in my van, driving through the south of France. The first destination was the Swiss Valais alps, where I met up with Lau, Claire Symes and Matt Freear. We camped in quite a big site just outside the town of Randa, which is near the big mountain/ski-resort of Zermatt, which is under the shadow of the Matterhorn. Unfortunately Matt was suffering from a very nastily infected blister on his heel, so the remaining three of us decided to bag a couple of non-technical peaks, rather than go rockclimbing and requiring to faff around with three on a rope. This suited me as, while I am pretty good shape in general, my climbing fitness has plummeted since the International Meet a few months ago. So the day after I arrived, Claire, Lau and myself walked up to stay at the Bordier hut, a relatively small mountain hut situated just below 3000m.

The walk in wasn't too bad but that night I really felt the altitude. Every time I drifted off to sleep my breathing would slow down and then I would wake up with a massive intake of breath. It surprised me really - I knew that most people begin to suffer the effects of altitude at about 2400m, but I wasn't expecting not being able to sleep. What made matters worse was that we had a 3am alarm call - there was a glacier right outside the hut that needed crossing on the way to (and, more importantly, from) the nearest peaks, and it's always better to cross glaciers before the sun gets on them and starts melting those crevasses! Anyway I managed an hour's sleep before we got up and started walking. I was tired but the glacier at dawn made it all worthwhile.

So we pushed on through to climb a few peaks and the next day we did something similar. The highest we reached was 3925m which is not to be sniffed at. Shame we couldn't reach 4000m but the mountains will be there a while longer yet. You can see more of my photos from Switzerland here:

Once back at the campsite in the valley the weather broke and Lau and I hightailed it north for Fontainebleau. As I said I'm not in top climbing shape but figured that, since I was only there for a day I might as well go all out. So I pretty much climbed myself into destruction, and was rewarded by a tick of the very famous problem Marie Rose, which was the first ever 6A-graded boulder problem in the forest. My payment was four trashed fingertips and set of muscles that ached for the next three days. Ah well.

Then after an exceptionally long day in the car, Lau and I arrived in North Wales for my stag do. It was held in the Scout's hut in Bethesda, which holds special significance for me as it was the place where I first laid eyes upon the beautiful girl who is shortly to become my wife. Just under 20 people showed up this weekend. Saturday day the weather was a bit dodgy so we all went for a poke around the Llanberis slate quarries:

It is a fascinating place, with loads of old buildings containing rusting machinery, and some that even still have miners' jackets hanging up on hooks, and old shoes rotting away on shelves. We found a tunnel from one quarry to the other, which was partially submerged in about a foot of water. Being boys we had to get through it so we managed to create a chain of people passing rocks towards the front, til we had a series of stepping stones to get across! Great fun.

Anyway so Saturday night was the usual shennagins of drinking games and noise, though I was fortunate and pleased to not have anything nasty done to me. Phew! Then there was the long drive back to Barcelona, made with stops in Swansea in London to see my parents and parents-in-law-to-be.

So, a great trip all in all. But, as always, it's nice to be back.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kangoo camper conversion

This thursday I am off on a road trip: up to the Swiss Alps for a few days, then to Fontainebleau, then up to Wales for my stag do, then down to London, and then the long drive home. While I will have Lau with me for about a third of the journey, to keep me entertained I have still been downloading podcasts and audiobooks by the gigabyte!

I also have done a bit of carpentry in the back of my van and installed a foldable bed-platform. It is based on the design of Guillaume Dargaud - many many thanks for publishing it Guillaume! I have followed the basic design but changed a few things to suit me e.g. I haven't bothered with a twin hinge, and have added a few extra support struts. I am very pleased and looking forward to trying it out in anger next week!

I didn't fancy working out on the street and having to cut all the wood/screw things together by hand, so I was fortunate enough to be able to use a garage and tools belonging to GoCar Barcelona, Djanira's employers. Very kind - frankly I don't think I would have finished otherwise! The whole thing, including going to buy wood and stuff, too me about a day and a half, but that's because I've never done any form of carpentry before so was learning as I went along. I'm sure somebody more proficient could have got the whole thing knocked up in a few hours.

I took a video of the almost-finished product, here it is:

Friday, August 01, 2008

Andorra riding

Last weekend, Muir, Rhys and Paul flew into Barcelona from London, and together with my mate PJ we headed up to Andorra for some downhilling action. The weather was mostly excellent and we had a lot of fun on the trails. Yesterday afternoon I compiled the various videos of our exploits into one four minute short: (note for Mums and Aunties, it has a couple of rude words in it, I blame Rhys)