Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"Who the f**king hell are Slipknot?"

Everybody has a favourite line from a Half Man Half Biscuit song. I think my favourite is: "I'm off to see The Bootleg Beatles, as the Bootleg Mark Chapman".

I've never seen The Bootleg Beatles (whilst dressed as a Beatle-shooter or otherwise) but I have seen other The Beatles tribute bands. They're quite easy to distinguish from the real thing these days - just count the number of living members. If there are four then there's a very real chance that you are not watching the real The Beatles. Instead you are watching four short sweaty men in bad wigs.

Actually, I think I might have lied about my favourite line from a Half Man Half Biscuit song. It's a different one. It's actually "...and a Blues CD on the Hallmark label - that's sure to be good" which only really makes any sense when placed in the context of a song about a man trying to annoy the guy serving him at a late night garage. Well, everybody's got to have a hobby.

Although I have favourite lines, I'm not a massive fan of HMHB. But they have their moments. Everyone has good moments (*).

(* except for Celine Dion, David Gray, Toploader, Vernon Kay, Mariah Carey and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Big thing!

I never did buy the huge Lego Star Destroyer that was released last year. Not because of its cost, just because of the sheer size of the thing. It would have looked silly. Anyway, now it has a friend - a giant Lego Death Star (as seen in Return of the Jedi rather than the original one). Like the one in the film, it is only partially constructed, which seems appropriate given the modelling medium.

I'm not going to get this one either though, for exactly the same reasons. It's too damn big. And also it doesn't come with any little Lego men which makes it much harder to play with. Mind you, given the scale involved, if it had come with little men they'd have been so small that I'd have needed tweezers and possibly a microscope in order to move them about, which would have destroyed the realism for me a little.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Lots of water and little cake

It's been a busy weekend during which I seem to have been mostly eating as far as I can remember. I could likely get away with skipping meals for the next few days with no ill effects. I've been up in Glasgow for Bert's flatwarming, which we followed with a bonus night in town to allow us to go for a walk on Sunday and today. The Sunday walk was possibly the wettest walk I have ever been on in my life. I did walks in America's Grand Canyon which involved wading through water more than waist deep and/or swimming but I think I ended up wetter on Sunday.

It just rained and rained and rained. And then it rained some more. We climbed a big hill but the view from the top was just rain. At the end, I was literally able to pour the water out of my boots.

All my money also got quite yet and I've been paying for things with damp notes ever since. Curse you, soggy Scotland.

On the way home today we made two major stops. Initially, Kendal. Kendal is famous for two things, and two things only - first, being on the edge of the Lake District and second, it is the home of Kendal Mint Cake. I had been led to believe that Kendal was full of Kendal Mint Cake. On every street corner would be a young scamp slyly eating a bar or two between meals. Old men with sticks would give it to their old wives to compensate them for returning late from the pub again. Vendors would sell the stuff from wheeled barrows, shouting cries of "Come and buy your mint cake, lovely mint cake, come and get it whilst it's minty and hot". None of this was in evidence.

It took us a long time to find somewhere that actually sold the stuff at all. It was like going to Paris and finding that souvenir shops have stopped selling 6 inch high scale replicas of the Eiffel Tower. Tres disappointing. But in the end we did track some down, not in a proper shop but instead in the tourist information office (the only information we wanted was to know where we could buy some bloody mint cake).

If in the unlikely event that anyone from Kendal is reading this, I'm sure that you have a lovely town. You just need to work on your USP a little more.

Our second stop was Teesdale High Force. Rather than being an action packed B-movie, this is in fact a waterfall. Quite a big one by English standards (but quite small by the standards of the rest of the world). Here's a picture of it, brought to you here by that old law that commands people take photos of every waterfall they pass, whenever humanly possible:

Teesdale High Force

The photo isn't actual size.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The table: It's too big

Not always... but why do pubs always put pool tables in rooms that are slightly too small? There are always shelves or cupboards or railings or girls or banisters or tables or stools or a miriad of other obstacles that are just there, preventing you from taking your cue back to the extent you might like. Do they do it on purpose to increase the challenge?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lovely spam, wonderful spam, spam, spam, spam...

Well, this is a little annoying but it's the crappy world we're in. I've had to enable the thing to get human verification of a word when entering comments. I've had 12 comment spams in the last 24 hours - not the end of the world, but still pretty irritating. Sorry everyone! Think of the verification process as being a little game. Can you work out what the cunningly disguised word really says? Can you?

The strange thing is that this has only started in the same week that Blogger introduced the word verification thing. It's like the problem only starts once there is a solution to stop it. Is this coincidence or something more sinister?

In the meantime, why not try buying some Viagra! Or perhaps you'd like to consolidate your loans?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sizzler RIP

I'm really quite upset. It looks like Dominos have stopped (or are about to stop) doing the Sizzler pizza - it's no longer available online. I liked the Sizzler. It had pepperoni and tandoori chicken and jalapenos and onions and a sundried tomato and garlic sauce. It was hot pizza it was good pizza and now it might be an ex-pizza.

Weep with me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Just hanging around...

Due to having nothing much to do at the weekend, I finally got around to doing my ironing pile. About 10 or so shirts that have just been left in an unironed pile in my bedroom for... a while. They're all ironed now. There was a dress shirt in there that I don't think I've worn for a couple of years at least. I ironed it anyway. Probably should have just chucked it, since I'll never wear it again - I have a newer, nicer (cleaner!) one. Actually, I should just put the old one into my rags pile. There's something gloriously decadent about using a dress shirt as a rag when painting or cleaning or whatever else it is that people do with rags.

But the point of this was that since I'd ironed and hung up a load of shirts I'll never wear, I have now run out of coathangers. When I removed some washing from the clothes washing machine a short while ago there were some clothes that I'd normally hang, but can't because of the paucity of empty hangers in my wardrobe. Darnit! I'll have to go and bally do something about it. Rearrange some of the full hangers, or put more shirts in the rags pile.

If you were wondering, the rags pile lives above my immersion heater thing, in the tall cupboard by the front door.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Super Furry Surround Sound

I'm currently listening to the new Super Furry Animals album, Love Kraft. It's too early for me to tell if it's any good or not, track one has yet to finish. The CD is quite unusual in that it's a dual format CD/SA-CD. The SA-CD version is remixed in 5.1 surround sound. Unfortunately, despite having at last count around 9 separate devices that'll play CDs, I don't have anything that will play SA-CDs so the delights of the 6 channel version will be lost on me for a while yet. Thinking about it, I barely even know what a SA-CD is!

But you know, it's still kinda cool.

My favourite SFA album was Rings Around The World. I bought that one on DVD, and could listen to it in 5.1. It was kinda cool, though it was slightly limiting it being on DVD rather than CD (I only have five devices that'll play DVDs...). In the end I just ripped a copy of a friend's CD version (in case the RIAA are reading, that was a JOKE...). It was fun sitting immersed with the music coming from all around but there is an extent to which you need to be in the right place. Surround sound doesn't give you as much scope for wandering aimlessly around the room in your underwear, at least not if you want to hear the music as it was intended to be heard.

So my conclusion here is that although surround sound 5.1 music is kinda cool, it's also kinda a waste of time. Not to mention the problems you'd have getting it to work with headphones. You'd need to put an extra earphone in each eye, one in your mouth and a big subwoofer headphone up your... well, somewhere out of the way.

I remember going to a Super Furry Animals concert once when they'd set the whole thing up with quadrophonic sound - the standard two front speakers but also some completely separate rear speakers (at the rear if my memory serves me well). Again, it was fun for a bit but after a while the novelty wore off.

So my conclusion (it turns out the first conclusion wasn't actually a conclusion after all. I should plan these posts better, or indeed at all) is that (aren't all these brackets irritating?) stereo is all you need. I've often argued that since we only have two ears, it's really quite pointless sending more than two different things into them as each ear only has one hammer and stirrup and so can only produce one channel of sound. the music may start as six channel but it's just two by the time it hits my brain. In fact, I only have one brain so maybe it's just one channel after I've processed it and my conscious mind registers it. Surround sound is an illusion. There are no rear sounds. There are no front sounds. There is only left and right.

And I am correct on that one.

Yes, I am.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Warning re Balconies

Balconies are possibly one of the most dangerous places you will ever visit. This is not just an arbitrary statement. Or at least it's no less arbitrary than any statement ever made. But they're dangerous. I'm going to leave aside the possibility that you might just fall off one, unprompted, like a complete doofus. The sorts of people who do that could injure themselves with any item in any place (subject (possibly) to being near that item and in that place). But there are several more specific balcony risks that years of television and film watching have brought to my intention.

The first thing about balconies is that they are really bad places to get shot. If you are shot on a balcony you have no option than to tip yourself over it (slow motion is best here if possible). The actual bullet wound itself probably wouldn't have been fatal. Compounded with a thirty foot fall, the position is much worse. Being shot in the arm is not normally that big a deal, but then after doing the big fall and landing direct on your head... the arm is the least of your worries. You wouldn't even have any worries because you'd be dead.

There is another side to the problem of being shot on balconies, and that's the frequency of these events. I estimate that more than 50 per cent of people on balconies end up being shot (and then falling off it). That's a higher percentage than those who are shot in New York, or even in most wars. It's like people on balconies emit some kind of pheromone that gunmen favour. I can't offer a good explanation for this, all I can offer is a warning: If you go to a balcony you're likely to be shot.

Being shot is not the only danger. Lots of terrorists hide in balconies. Also there was that Phantom of the Opera guy who had his own little balcony in the Opera House - you didn't go in there if you valued your safety.

Then there's lovely Juliet. She was famously on a balcony and look how that turned out for her.

So I rest my case. Balconies are very dangerous places and should be avoided whenever possible. I'm just glad I live on the ground floor and don't have to worry about such things on a regular basis.

Submarines are quite dangerous places too.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Please stop the noise...

I probably should know better, but I've just been watching the new series of the X-Factor on ITV. Sometimes I think I should turn my flat into one of those households where people don't watch ITV because it's crap. To do this would involve me putting a sign on top of my telly saying "Please refrain from watching ITV because it's crap" and then ensuring that myself, and anyone else passing through the flat, adhered to the instructions on said sign. But I'm not going to do that because it would look untidy.

So, back to the X-Factor. If anyone is lucky enough to be unaware of what the show is, it's like Pop Idol with a wider remit. As well as young pop-wannabes, pretty much anyone or anything can apply. Old people, even older people, grandmas, groups. They'd probably let Mr Ed audition if he turned up (and if he was real).

It's still at the auditions stage at the moment which is almost always the most entertaining part. I am continually bemused by some of the people that attempt to get through this stage. They are some of the ugliest, stupidest, least talented, utterly deluded wastes of space that you can see on non-pay tv. I can't believe that the singing they do actually sounds good in the confines of their own small heads, or the small heads of their families. There are parents pushing their kids onto this thing and they must know that the auditionee will be utterly humiliated. Then there are people going on purely of their own free will, in what is seemingly a kind of social suicide.

To reiterate, these people cannot sing or dance and they look awful. They look awful in pretty much all of the ways that it is possible to look awful, sometimes all at once. And perhaps more importantly given that it's all about the music (yeah, right) they have no musical ability whatsoever.

And then there are the completely barking mad ones. Today, an old balding man who claimed he'd recreated the voice of John Lennon and was able to get it to sing the old balding man's songs. In his audition he played a homemade CD on a portable stereo. It was hard to say whether it sounded like Lennon or not, but I think "not" has to be more likely. But at least he wasn't trying to sing live himself.

The ones that really confuse me are the little nerdy ones, the ones that look like they were aiming to audition for University Challenge but took the wrong door. I just don't understand what the f**k is going through their heads. Don't they know?

Bunch of useless arse, every single one of them.

(darn. actually I'm just pissed off cos I forgot to enter the auditions myself again)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Toilet Break

At about halfway through this morning I headed off to the toilet. This would have been fine except that at the exact same time my boss and also his boss also headed off to the toilet too. I don't think we realised that we were all heading to the same place until we got there. If our toilets had urinals this would have been an odd occassion. As it is, it's all cubicles.

A sane person might think: That's nice. Why did you feel the need to share that? I say in response: You're nice (maybe) why do you feel the need to read this and share with me?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Two Coins

I found two American quarter coins in my washing machine door this morning. I removed them from their place of repose and placed them on my dining table. They'll stay there a long time - I can't spend the blasted things anywhere around here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Wedding gift clawback

I'll have been to quite a few weddings by the end of the year. And for each of them I will have bought gifts, usually from the wonderful invention that is the Online Wedding List. I don't mind buying presents, but I think that when the bride and groom accept the present, they are entering into a covenant with me, much like they are with each other. The way I see it, they are committing to stay together for a decent length of time (technically forever). If they break this promise and get divorced after only a few years then I think I should be entitled to get back a portion of my gift or the equivalent monetary value.

This might seem a bit mercenary, but remember that if one of those divorcees then marries again, I would be expected to buy more gifts. They would be fleecing me simply because of their own inability to hold a long term relationship together. Taken to the extreme they might marry and divorce once a year for the rest of my life. This could prove very expensive for me.

So I think it would be fair that should a break-up occur within the first five years, I should get some kind of refund from the not-happy-anymore couple.

I've been thinking of ways in which this could be structured financially, and how to work out how payments could be structured between the two parties.

Perhaps the easiest way might be for the value of each item to be written down linearly over the five year period. On break-up within this time, a payment could be made to me equal to the remaining value of the item. If the divorced could not pay this, I could accept payment with the item itself. This would then give added incentive to always choose gifts from the wedding list that I'd like to receive myself (a bike). Disadvantages here would include having to rely on a divorced person (who is inherently an evil sinner) to pay me what I was owed, and it might also give me reason to try and split up the couple just so I could get my nice thing back.

A better method would be one where I retained legal ownership of all or part of the gift until the end of the five year period. With a gift of a set of cutlery, for example, this could be done by giving them the cutlery piece by piece. Another month, another spoon. Whilst this would be good from my point of view I could see that an incomplete cutlery set might be somewhat inconvenient for its users. I'd also need to find storage room for the outstanding cutlery in my flat. Not so bad if it's just one wedding, but if there were five or six it could get onerous. My cutlery drawer is not infinite in size.

So I think then my favoured method would be to give gifts on a some kind of contractual basis. One way it might work could be:
1) I would choose a gift as normal.
2) All gifts would be initially paid for in full by the future Mr and Mrs.
3) A contract would be drawn up with a payment schedule that I would have to pay for the next five years. These payments would cover in full the cost of the gift, plus a small interest payment linked to the bank base rate.
4) I would sign the contract before the wedding.
5) I would then make the assigned payments on the stated dates.
6) If divorce occurred, no future payments would be owed by myself, and the couple could keep the gift. (Ideally payments would stop at the first time the marriage showed signs of being in trouble, but I think this might be pushing my luck a little.)

This would have then a similar effect to the first approach I described above but would put me on much more solid legal and financial ground.

Now, you might come along to me and say that this last method is unfair since the bride and groom would have to stump up for thousands of pounds of gifts at outset, a time when they already have to pay out for the wedding and honeymoon. I say to that: Screw 'em! Not my problem! Let them take out a loan with the local gangsters. Hell, I'll lend them the money if they're desperate (at a suitably punitive rate of interest)!

The only people who could possibly have a genuine problem with this scheme would be prospective marryees who didn't expect it to last. People with nothing to hide would embrace this as an addtional sign of their commitment to one another. So, in fact, by enacting this the divorce rate could be slashed. It might lead to a spike in divorce rates at the fifth anniversary, but I think the overall rate would be lowered.

In the meantime, I'd better go and find my credit card.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

He that would be a leader must be a bridge

I think one of the hardest things about learning to dance is learning to lead, or if you're a girl, to be led. Beginners tend to learn little routines where both parties know what is coming next. The boy knows he's about to turn the girl, the girl knows she's about to be turned. Both people start to do the next move without any signals having to be passed from one person to another. Rather than him giving a small push to indicate movement, she is already moving as the push comes.

Somehow you have to move away from this. The boy has to move to a point where he can make small but firm motions which indicate which way to move, which direction to turn, when to stop and when to continue. The girl needs to learn to feel for these and use them to work out what's coming next. Perhaps the boy has the advantage in that he should always know what is coming next. Or perhaps the girl has it easier if she can just relax and be led around the floor without thinking, as movements become automatic, subconscious.

I'm not sure how you get to this point other than through practising. Often I find that by concentrating on where to move my feet I can forget what I'm supposed to be doing with the rest of my body, not signalling my intentions as strongly as I might. I move but don't lead. She moves but is not led. Sometimes though it seems to work better than that.

Perhaps all it needs is time and practice.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Rhyming singers

David Gray came on the radio earlier (ie his record was played) and I thought "Go away". Then, realising that "David Gray should go away" sounded quite rhymey, I wrote rhymes for a few more solo male singer-songwriters - Bob Dylan is a villain, Richard Ashcroft is really soft, Don Mclean is really mean etc. But sadly, I then got stuck when I reached James Blunt. Complete mental block. Just couldn't think of anything that rhymed.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

It's not sunny

I've been to a family wedding in Scunthorpe this weekend. Scunthorpe is oft reffered to as "Sunny Scunny" but this is quite inaccurate. "Miserable Rainy Scunny" would be a better description. Now, fair dos, I was there for less than 24 hours and so may have just gone on a bad day. Maybe. I think it's likely like that all the time. Why else would they have needed to call it "Sunny" except as a means to draw unsuspecting people in?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dance me to the end of The Knavesmire

I've been dancing again tonight, but not at my usual Monday night venue. Tonight I haven't been learning to dance... I've been teaching. A couple of friends who are getting married (to each other) in a few weeks want to learn the waltz as a dance they might possibly do as their first post-wedding dinner dance. Unfortunately, they missed the relevant lessons. I, luckily, am a master of the waltz (that's "master" as in "someone who vaguely can count to three") and so myself and my dancing partner agreed to help them out.

Sadly, neither of us own a ballroom. Or a large garden. Or even a small garden. This limts the places in which we might dance to:

a) Car parks
b) Town squares
c) Public grassy spaces

Since a) is clearly unsafe and b) would leave us open to abuse and attack from chavs and pensioners, we opted for option c). Specifically, the grassy area by The Knavesmire. I'd like to call it a grassy knoll, but it was fairly flat and had no true knoll-like qualities so I'll not call it that. We'd hoped it might be fairly quiet there, and we did indeed find a quiet corner where the only people who could see us were:

1) Passing cyclists
2) Passing joggers
3) Passing pedestrians
4) The guys playing five-a-side football (soccer, Americans) nearby
5) The people in the adjacent houses if they looked out of their gardens or upper storey windows
6) The people sitting on the grassy bank
7) The two guys sitting in a van

So fairly secluded then. I did feel a little self-conscious at first, since we must basically have looked ridiculous. But it's easy to get used to anything. And I don't think any of the people who could see us would have known me in any case. And when you're as fabulous as me, who cares who sees you?!

Our teaching seemed to work well enough. We got the guys up to a basic waltz movement which will enable them to progress up and down any dancefloor. It won't yet let them switch from up to down yet, but future lessons will remedy that.

The main thing we were lacking was any music. Two reasons for this: we didn't have anything to play music on, and we were seriously failing to think of any ballroom waltz tempo songs that any of us would have on CD (suggestions welcome here). I'm sure there must be loads. Instead we had to resort to counting 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3... and so on. Effective, but lacking imagination.

In case any of you were wondering, I didn't approach this task without having imbibed a glass of wine beforehand over dinner.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Paint it black (except we weren't allowed to)

Today myself and some work guys did some school painting. Like any good makeover, I've got a before and after photo. If I'd been thinking properly I might have photoed the whole room rather than just a corner:

Before:
Before

After:
After

I think we actually did a pretty good job of the whole thing. The headmaster was taking on a pretty big risk by taking on twenty five odd people who may or may not have painted a wall in their lives before - we could have accidentally done the whole thing purple or something. Not sure how we'd have done that with a lot of light coloured paints but it still must have been a risk that the head could have nightmares about.

But we didn't f**k things up too much and at the end when we looked round the school, I think we all felt that we had spent the day doing something worthwhile and that we had dramatically improved the look of the school. Go us.

We managed to finish all the painting of the school an hour ahead of schedule. This, really annoyingly (for me anyway) left time for PE. We headed out onto the field at the back for a game of football. I think the last time I played football (soccer, Americans) was probably at school. And I didn't like it then. I just don't see the point of it. I understand the rules and the aims and the goals, but I just don't see the point of it. What is really going on?

Two totally arbitrary teams of people run around with a ball and sometimes make it go where they want (meanwhile I occasionally kick it in a random direction or sometimes miss entirely) whilst shouting random things like "Time!" or "Man On". And regularly, "Well played, X" where X is a person who may have just made a good kick, or more likely has just fallen over or kicked the ball off the pitch.

It's just a waste of good time that I could use to read a book or have a glass of wine or both.

We played actuaries against accountants. We actuaries won. At one point, I brilliantly tackled the best member of the accountants to then set up a neat goal. That may be how it looked to others. I'm fairly sure I just tripped or something. At another point I was in goal for a bit and amused myself by seeing how much I could move the goalposts (t-shirts) without anyone noticing. I did about a foot before I let a goal in (wasn't paying attention, was distracted whilst playing with my phone) and was made to go back into the thick of it.

Stupid game, but at least we beat the accountants.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

We rule the school

I'm going back to school tomorrow. Primary school. I can't actually remember the last time I set foot in a school, but it could easily be upwards of ten years ago. That's unless you count universities as schools in which case it would have been just this last weekend. But I don't think universities count. Schools should have headmasters and bells and playgrounds with coloured lines, some of which you'll never work out the purpose of throughout your time there.

And possibly there should also be a game of marbles at lunchtime.

I'm not intending to play marbles tomorrow. I'm instead going to take part in a team building activity with my colleagues from work. As part of York Cares we're going to a local school to do a touch of painting. Possibly more than a touch - I think we're going to be doing the whole bally insides. Including the staff room! And the staff room toilet! I'm pretty sure I've never been inside a staff room toilet.

Since the staff room toilet is being "done", if any of us actually need to use a toilet we'll have to use the kids ones. Since the kids in question are all likely under 10 years old, these will be teeny-tiny toilets, midget toilets. But that's enough about toilets. (Did I mention the toilets in America's Grand Canyon? They were fine! I love metal boxes.)

I'm leading one of the teams that we've set up which in an ideal world would mean that I could sit around on a chair all day uttering such useful phrases as "You've missed a bit", "Can I have a cup of tea, love?" and "Phrrooar! Nice pair!". However since I'm about a foot taller than the rest of the guys and gals I'm working with, I figure I'm doing the ceiling.

Amusingly, the headmaster wants to sit us all down at the start of the day (possibly in a cross-legged position) and talk to us about the school etc. Even though it's the school holidays the man is taking any opportunity that he can find to conduct a school assembly. Rumours that we will have to sing hymns remain pure speculation at this point.

But still, it should make a nice change from work. And we get lunch bought for us. And beer later. I'd better go and find some old clothes.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Here Comes Winter

It seemed this evening that it got dark much earlier than we've been having recently. It was darker than yesterday. But then yesterday I was in Sheffield which is a whole hour south of here. I'm sure that explains it.

I'd been in Sheffield for a friend's stag weekend. Tradition forbids me from entering into too much detail here of what events transpired, but I can say that I rock at both go-karting and shooting people with lasers. I later went to visit my parents and also my uncle, aunt and youngest cousin who were all over visiting from Canada. It's the first time I've met my cousin except for when she was a baby - she's now many many years older but I was very well behaved and didn't say "ooohhhhhh, haven't you grown!" once.

I'm a tired one

Today I'm tired. Just thought I'd share that.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Tales from America's Grand Canyon (4)

A tale of tranquility.

The Little Colorado is a feeder river to the Colorado which joins at broadly the point where Marble Canyon becomes Grand Canyon proper. It's not navigable by boat, but it's easy enough to hike up it.

It's an unspoilt spot of natural beauty - the water is a wonderful clear shade of blue, there are no people around other than those from boat trips. It feels like a natural water-park, the inspiration for water-parks around the world. It has rapids, things to jump from, things to float down or places to just lie and soak up the sun. The water is also really warm, especially compared to the Colorado.

Unlike the main river, you're not supposed to wee in it.

We deboated (a word which doesn't seem to be ever used, unlike detrain and deplane. Don't get me started) and hiked a short way upriver. We'd been told to bring our lifejackets. About 10 minutes upriver we stopped near some whitewater. Our guides showed us how to wear our lifejackets like underwear (ie upside down with legs through the armholes) and then ride the rapids. That was a lot of fun. Not something I'd like to do in all rapids, but it seemed safe enough here. Once at the bottom you could swim back to the edge of the river and do it again. And again. And again. Until it was time to head up-river.

Because up-river there was a Jumping Rock. A Jumping Rock is a rock that you can safely jump off. You can jump off most rocks but you'd be ill advised to do it from some of them because of either a) no water to land in; b) shallow water to land in; c) jagged rocks to land on; d) the rock is too high that you get scared. A Jumping Rock is high enough to make jumping worthwhile, low enough so you won't break your legs and has a nice deep pool of water by it for you to jump into. An ideal Jumping Rock also has a nice easy climb up it, but this is not essential.

I climbed the jumping rock (easier said than done until I saw how other people were doing it) and was ready to jump off... but then I got a bit scared and just stood there for a while until someone came along to "hold my hand", both figuratively and literally. Then... Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhh... sppppllllassssshhh!

To get this far up river had involved a lot of careful jumping between slightly submerged rocks. The river was flowing alongside, but it was too deep to wade up. Going back, this wasn't a problem. We could simply float all the way back, just like in a lazy river. We floated all the way back to the rapids we could swim through. And then... all the way back to the boat, though being careful to get out before we reached the Colorado.

To give you the full picture, I had my hat and sunglasses on all the time whilst floating back. It felt silly. But it also felt great.

I didn't take any photos myself - I left my camera in the boat since I intended to go swimming. I have however found some photos on the interweb which I think demonstrate quite nicely how cool the place is.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tales from America's Grand Canyon (3)

Now, a tale of alcohol.

Lava Falls is the fastest navigable whitewater rapid in Northern America. It's at around about River Mile 180 (ie 180 miles from Lee's Ferry) and would be our last major rapid of the trip. I think it's a grade 10 rapid (equivalent to grade 5 on the scale used everywhere else in the world) - photos don't quite give the full impression of how powerful the river can be:

Lava Falls

After scouting the rapid from the rocks above, we reboarded the boat and made our way through. The guides didn't mention it to us at the time but a couple of people have died in Lava Falls over the years, both on commercial trips like ours (though the most recent was around 20 years ago). Thankfully, none of us died or even fell in and our 35 ft rigs sailed gloriously, if bumpily, through. The first of our boats headed downriver towards camp and we in the second boat followed behind.

A few miles downstream we came across a party of rowboat rafters on the shore. They were shouting something at us. It sounded like they wanted... ice. Did we have any spare ice that we could give them? Hell yes! We only had one night to go, and our boat was the one with majority of the coolboxes, so we could just about spare a few bags of ice. We pulled into shore, satisfied that we were helping out some rafters in need.

It turned out that this other party had run out of ice a few days previously. Whether they needed the ice to keep food cool or just to use to make cocktails, they didn't make clear. However, they were clearly grateful to receive this bounty because one bearded old gent bounded over to us with a bottle of Tequila and urged us all to "have a shot". Excellent! But it got better - he then decided that they clearly had far too much booze and that we could just take the whole bottle (it had about 0.75 to 1.0 litres left in it). Result!

We thanked the man and sailed off. The first boat was now out of site in the distance and had probably just assumed that we'd stopped to clear out our water pump, or possibly for a riverside toilet break. They had no idea that we had just made a genius alcohol haul.

We didn't have any shot glasses with us, though I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been some tucked away in the boat somewhere - they seemed to have everything else. But such a small thing as that would not hold us back from Tequila. Since it was a big bottle, it had a big bottle cap. Perfect for drinking from! We began to pass the bottle round those of us on the boat who wanted some (which was most of us).

After the first round it occurred to our boat drivers that we had some salt and limes knocking around on the boat, easily to hand. So our superb assistant boatsman searched them out, cut up some limes for us, passed the salt and we were then on to proper Tequila Slammers all the way to camp:

Tequila

We got through around four or five rounds by the time we pulled in and were all fairly happy. We had maybe 0.25 litres of the bottle left and that mostly got drank later on in camp.

Good times.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Dreams

I got back into the UK at 8am on Monday morning. I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 3pm on Tuesday. On Wednesday (today) I woke at 11am. If I continue this progression I will wake at 7am tomorrow, my first day back in work.

It all seems like one long fabulous dream.

I have been actually dreaming of The River and of boats. I semi woke in the night yesterday and spent time trying to work out how I was supposed to get from my bed to the boat and where were all the other people? This will pass.

Tales from America's Grand Canyon (2)

Next, a tale of storms and stars.

After successfully helicoptering out our injured, we were ready to camp for the night. The campsite looked like a fairly nice one - lots of room, the sand was dry despite the prior night's rain and there was easy access to the river for washing and ablutions. We unloaded the boats and made camp.

Fourth Camp
(This is actually a photo of the following night's campsite. It looks similar though. Just pretend and use your imagination)

It had started to get a bit windy by this time, and maybe there was a hint of thunder. This made it a bit trickier to put the tents up, but not too bad as long as there were two people. We had two people, me and Pete (I did have to run over to help out someone else who was trying to do it on her own at one point - it looked like she and her tent were about to be carried off like a kite). We just about got the tent erected when the storm proper started.

The guides had mentioned that it was monsoon season but I think we thought they were joking. The Canyon's a notoriously dry place!

To avoid getting our gear all wet, we slung all the bags into the tent. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to stop the tent being blown about so we dived in ourselves and closed the door behind us. It rained and blew and thundered and lightninged. It was a helluva storm. And we had no real choice but to stay in the tent and ride it out, whilst simultaneously trying to ensure the tent vaguely kept its shape and hoping that it wouldn't tear.

This storm was not sufficient to lift a tent with two fully grown men and all our gear. We survived. Hah - crap storm!

Anyway, part way through the storm we realised that not everyone else had stayed in their tents. Either because they'd found a more sheltered spot to camp, or they had heavier rocks to tie the tent to or their tent was at a better angle to ride the wind, for whatever reason they had been able to head back to the boat grab some beer and snacks and then climb to a fully sheltered alcove in a nearby cliff. From here they were able to survey the campsite and regard the storm with scorn.

Neither of us were able to leave the tent and join them since the tent would have blown away or become distorted beyond repair but we could maybe still have a beer... We shouted for a beer but none was forthcoming. We shouted again for a beer but still none was forthcoming. After some minutes, Matt (another member of our British contingent) left his tent, which was seemingly able to cope with just one person left inside as ballast, to go and get some beer. "Yay!" we thought. Matt would bring us some beer. And sure enough he emerged from the boat with some beers which he carried back up to the campsite.

He then changed direction and took all the beers up to the cliff alcove! Bastard!

Some time passed and eventually the winds abated to a level where we were able to leave the tent to its own devices. We headed up to the cliff ourselves where pretty much everyone else had gathered by this time and drank some beer and ate some crackers and salmon. It all tasted good.

Later, after dinner (spaghetti bolognaise, I think) it had dried up enough to make sleeping outside possible. This turned out to be the first night that the skies were clear enough for us to see stars at night. Millions of stars. I don't think I've ever seen a night sky like it. The Milky Way was clearly visible as a white band across the sky. Constellations glistened, mostly un-named since nobody could remember more than a couple of them. Shooting stars were shooting all over the place. I could have lain there all night just looking up and thinking. I did lay there all night, but after a while I slept.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tales from America's Grand Canyon (1)

Let's start with a tale of pain.

On the third day, we'd had an excellent morning in the Little Colorado river (more on that another time) and after lunch were heading downriver to our next stop. We were in the Unkar Creek area (and I think this is the exact point) near some large beach areas. I was in the second boat and we could see that the first boat ahead had stopped moving and had was just floating - this was not an uncommon event, and could just have indicated that the guide was pointing out some interesting geological features or history, or maybe that they were having a chocolate break.

However it turned out that one of the girls in the boat had managed to have a slight accident. Whilst in a non-rapids area she had been moving about the boat and had slipped, landed badly and dislocated her shoulder. Big Ouch. This had happened to her before (though not in the same circumstances) but this time it was apparently a bad one. It was a little on the rubbish side that she'd done this in a flat part of water rather than a violently bumpy one but that's girls for you: always contrary.

The trip leader got out his first aid book and looked up "dislocated shoulder" but was unable to find anything to help. And I'm not sure I'd like to have a shoulder put back in place by someone taking instructions from a book. It was looking like a bad situation that would require external help. Luckily we were near a big sandy area which would be able to take a helicopter landing. Then...

... we heard the sound of a helicopter. This was odd since we hadn't called for one. It was then even odder when it proceeded to land near us. We pulled up to the shore and our guide went to meet it to see if they could help. In the meantime we just sat around and chatted and drank stuff, except for the injured girl who I imagine was gritting her teeth and saying "ow" a lot.

The Other Boat

It turned out that the helicopter hadn't come for us at all (which shouldn't have been a surprise given that we hadn't called for one) but had instead come to pull out a woman from another party who were parked around the corner from us. She was suffering from hyponatremia (resulting from drinking too much water and not enough food) and needed to be taken to hospital to recover. We asked if they could also take our girl too - sadly they couldn't as the helicopter was too small. However, they were happy to come back in 45 minutes if we could just do one thing for them: Build them a helicopter landing pad.

It occured to me last night when thinking about this that we could maybe have used the place the helicopter had landed on the first time. But that didn't seem to be an option - possibly because the boat (and the injured) were too far from the current landing location.

So we had to build a pad. This involved making an area of the sand very wet so that it would a) not blow around so much and b) be obvious from the air. This would not be so bad except that the proposed pad was around 50m from the river, it was very hot (maybe around 100F) and we didn't have a fire truck. So we had to form a line from the river and pass buckets of water up it, and empty buckets down it. For about half an hour plus. In this way the pain of the dislocation was passed to us all. The sympathy we had for the injured girl was evaporating along with our sweat.

But eventually we had done enough (or at least it was getting close to when the copter would return and we had to clear the landing site) and we were able to go and relax a little and wait for the landing.

The helicopter duly came and the medics did their thing with drips and drugs. Eventually the (now quite woozy and drugged up) girl was brought to the landing pad and taken away (though not before one of her friends had taken great delight in taking many photos of her in her time of crisis). The helicopter flew away. Big Brother had spoken and the first person had been evicted from our boats. Game over.

MedEvac 'Copter

MedEvac over, we were able to continue downriver. Actually, we went back upriver to the place where thre helicopter had been the first time because we'd used up so much time that it was time to camp for the night. And it was going to be a stormy night...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Guess Who's Back...

Good news everybody - I have returned from my white-water rafting trip in America's Grand Canyon in one piece with no (significant) injuries and I'm not dead.

The rafting and camping was great fun. It's been a complete change from my normal lifestyle - much more basic. No music apart from that which you sing yourself. No showers, just the cold Colorado river. No flushing toilets, just a metal box behind a bush or boulder. No beds, just a sleeping mat under the stars (and what stars they are...) or a tent if it rains. No mobile phones and no digital watch. But it's strange how quickly I became used to these apparent deprivations.

One area where we weren't deprived was food - it was fantastic. Dinners includes salmon, steak, pork chops and spag bol. Always good sized portions, well prepared, very tasty and with lots of veg/rice etc to accompany them. The four guides did a brilliant job of preparing these for us - all we had to do was sit and wait. They also did breakfast and sandwiches for lunch for us, plus there were various little snacks on offer through the day: cereal bars, liquorice, chocolate etc. And unlimited apples and oranges on the boats.

The really impressive thing about the food was just how many ingredients were stashed away on the boat. There were avocados available as sandwich ingredients for lunch every day. They seemed to have a huge amount of melons in there. One morning they pulled a pineapple out from somewhere. And taking breakable fresh eggs on a white water rafting trip... sounds like a mad idea but they were kept safe somewhere.

And then to move from this basic lifestyle to the gross excesses of Vegas - it really gives you a different perspective on things. Such a contrast, and I know which one I preferred.

Holiday stories and photos will be appearing here over the next few days.