Saturday, 21 June 2008

Freedom of speech

Over the past few months I have come across a number of views about blogs, some positive, some negative. It seems appropriate to write my own views on blogs on my own blog.

Wikipedia's entry on "blog" says that the word blog has become a very loose term, meaning any bit of media wherein the subject expresses his/her opinion or simply talks about something.

When I started this blog, it was purely an experiment; I wanted to know what blogs were all about. Blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies feature significantly in my work environment, so this was done partly on a "need to know" basis. It is happy coincidence, as far as I am concerned, that others read it, and that I can use it to keep in touch with friends in far-flung places. Without it, I wouldn't have the time to do everything I do and still keep in touch. Some enjoy it, and I'm sure some don't, but that isn't my problem.

Fungus: will grow anywhere dark and damp

There have been a number of threads on UK Climbing recently, which have debated the approach of the climbing media in reporting events which might (or might not) be deemed significant or of particular interest to the climbing community. In some cases the reporters have been been criticised for giving less prominent coverage to events which might be regarded as more significant, and vice versa. Freedom of the press inevitably provides scope for media manipulation of public opinion. We live in a world where the global media makes stars in order to destroy them - creating "news" in order to generate more news in the future. On the other side of that, it's also a world where state controlled news agencies exist, and ensure that the great unwashed are told only what they need to know, thereby ensuring a particular reaction, a particular election result etc. It's an endless and vicious cycle.

The rise of the civic journalism movement has begun to challenge the problems associated with the "traditional" media and journalism. We can all be participants in the media machine rather than spectators, passive readers of whatever is piped at us through established channels. Audience participation has been brought to a new level. We are no longer just the audience.

Simple things like blogs offer us all the opportunity to report to the rest of the world what we think is important and to comment on, well, whatever we wish to comment on. Maybe it is only important to the reporter, but maybe there are others out there who find it important or interesting too. There are well-known therapeutic benefits to writing, whether it be about personal experiences or simply expressing a view and feeling that one's voice is heard. It's there for all to read, and if the reader doesn't find it interesting, so what? It's no different in the "traditional" media (BBC, CNN, The Daily Record...). Rather than simply complaining that the media isn't reporting the right stuff, we are now able to report the right stuff ourselves. The technology and the mechanisms exist for all of us to publish what we believe is important.

However, it seems that in making use of these opportunities, personal bloggers have come under fire. I have seen some blogs described variously as "self-promotory", "cringeworthy" and "egotistical". While I don't wish to comment on any particular author or post, I would defend to the hilt the blogger's right to write in their own style and to say whatever it is they wish to say. They may be offering views on others' activites, or documenting their own; they may be raising awareness of particular campaigns or issues, anything from global disease epidemics to the removal of a local playground or development of greenbelt land. It doesn't matter. From the blogger's point of view, there is one simple but blunt way to express it: it's my blog, and I'll write what I like on it.

The Chardonnet: crystal clear in dawn light

Speaking for my own blog, if you don't find it interesting, don't read it. It isn't offensive, it isn't defamatory, and it's purpose is purely for my own enjoyment. If you also enjoy it, I'm glad. Happy reading.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Thou Shalt Not Climb - Part II

There are lots of Other Things happening at the moment, so climbing has (regretfully) taken a lower priority recently. Having promised myself I would have one day of the weekend climbing, and in keeping with this year's theme of exploring new places, we headed for Arbroath and the sea cliffs there. Cunningly, we had checked the forecast this time, and it looked good for Saturday almost everywhere. We thought we couldn't go wrong this time, especially after last week's fiasco.

Wrong! (think funny duck noise from terrible TV game shows) Imagine our disbelief and exasperation as the sunshine faded and we drove into the haar in Arbroath. Every immortal power which might conceivably control the weather, is conspiring against us to deny us sunshine, never mind climbing as well. What did we do? Did we inadvertently tread on a spider? Is it St Swithin's Miserable Cousin's Day? On the positive side, it wasn't cold, not really, although there were definite waves of cold and warmth, which I suppose is a "feature" of the haar. We had ice cream anyway, and headed off along the cliff path.

Bong and Caroline sorting gear in the car park

So to cut to the chase, after a little bit of a muddle, we identified The Platform, and prepared to ab in. Caroline doesn't like abbing in; she is freaked by the possibility that she won't be able to get out again. We had two ropes with us and since there appeared to be nobody else around (everyone else was somewhere else in the sunshine) we agreed to leave the abseil rope up.

Having reached the platform, we promptly slipped about on the green stuff and found ourselves being dive-bombed by a herring gull, which clearly wasn't happy at our presence. Maybe this is why nobody else was here....

I've never seen limpet circles like this before!

Shoes on, chalked up, tied on, Bong set off up the warm-up route, a 5+. Within seconds the blue language started. Somewhere in the tirade we identified the words "ball bearings", "sandpit" and "nasty". Not encouraging. All three of us trotted up the route, and agreed that we didn't really want to climb any more Arbroath sea cliffs.

The Platform - looks pretty cool from a distance. But close up....

Verdict? An awesome setting, with interesting (looking) routes but Nasty rock. Really nasty! It was horrible: sandy, crumbly, nasty, nasty stuff. Uninviting and uninspiring. I'm sure that there are others who love this kind of thing, but it ain't for me. Or Bong. Or Caroline. How can this be fun?? Despite the fact that this is sport climbing, it was more scary than the scariest trad I've ever done. Granted, the friction is pretty good if you find a less crumbly spot to hold on to. Maybe we just tried the wrong route, maybe we should have persevered and climbed something harder, which might have been less sandy. But Bong ventured into Seagull Territory and made a closer inspection of some of the routes to the left of the picture above, and concluded that the others weren't any better. Then I read the guidebook - it mentioned something about this definitely being adventure sport climbing, and climbers needing to have enough experience to assess the integrity of bolts. Now, while I think I have enough experience to make such an assessment, I wasn't especially comfortable with climbing nasty rock, on bolts that might be unreliable, with no means of backing them up (we didn't lug the trad gear down the cliff with us). We hatched an escape plan.

Bong's grumpy face as he tops out

Having left the ab rope up, I prussicked up it (apparently being the most keen, or maybe just the most stupid, of the three of us). HotAches would be proud of my rope-climbing skills with my improvised rig. I now have some appreciation of how much hard work it is to jumar the height of Dumbarton Rock, never mind carrying the weight of camera gear too. It seemed only fair for me to take the risk, since it was me who had set up the abseil point at the top! Having topped out, I belayed the others up, and hauled my sack up too. Bong's face as he topped out said it all really. But we had a fun time fiddling about with ropes, working on the logistics and all that kind of faff. That's what climbing is about, no? Faff? Sometimes, I think...

Sandy shoes

Bumbleybee enjoying some clifftop saxifrage juice

Having had our wee adventure in finding the place, abbing in, deciding it was rubbish and climbing out again, we had completely lost our psyche to climb. My finger was sore and the sun still wasn't out. So we bought some Arbroath Smokies and headed for the beach at Elie in sunny Fife.

Arbroath Smokies

The smokies were pretty good actually. If you eat fish and you've never had them, you should try them. The smoky taste is (er...obviously!) very pronounced. It might have been better with toast or crackers, but just fish, on a beach, in the sunshine was pretty cool. They also came wrapped in newspaper; nice to see things the way they should be. We had a squiz at Dundee house prices at the same time. Very interesting.

From Elie towards St Monans. Sunshine at last!

It was a lovely day in the end, but still no climbing. Nor is there prospect of any climbing at least until next weekend :-(

Friday, 6 June 2008

Today's Quotation

This (apparently) appeared in The Independent sometime earlier this week. After today, I am starting to think it might be true.

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are always cocksure and the intelligent are always filled with doubt."

Bertrand Russell, from The Triumph of Stupidity, 1933.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Thou Shalt Not Climb Today...

...or "130 miles to Alien Rock" might be a better title for this post.

In our great wisdom, based on past experience, we chose to disregard (by not reading) any published weather forecast this weekend. On so many occasions have we trekked o'er vale and hill for some climbing, only to be thwarted by the weather. How often have we said in great disgust, "but the weather forecast said..."? How many times has the forecast not come true?

Saturday, as we all know, was a beautiful day. Cloudless, warm, nay even hot! I had promised myself that on Saturday I would make a start on the stack of domestic chores that is rapidly accruing, with the promise of some climbing fun on Sunday. I deliberately chose not to read a forecast, thinking that if Saturday was this nice, Sunday couldn't be horrific. How wrong was I?


Having packed 7 boxes of books at home, and spent some more time moving furniture and tidying, I was restrained at Saturday nights' festivities. I had a good sleep, packed my sack quickly and was ready to go. Caroline picked me up and we headed south, determined to do some trad. somewhere in Northumberland. It looked a little grey, but we commented that yesterday's heat would have made the rock sweaty and slippy. Bad conditions, and all that. Any self respecting climber knows you can't climb when it's too hot, right?

Little Spots
Just past Torness some little spots appeared on the windscreen. There was quiet. Caroline looked at the road. I looked at Caroline. We agreed it would pass, and carried on.

The further south we got, the heavier the rain got. We couldn't see the sea, let alone the tops of the hills.

"This is ridiculous, we might as well turn back, now. Nothing down here is going to be dry." This by the time we got to Grantshouse. So we turned back. The rain got heavier. We thought of Andrea who had gone out west for some sport, of Iain at Kilnsey, of Sarah on her way to sunnier climes, of Diff and the boys at Dumbarton....all (probably) basking in sunshine. And where we we? On the A1 in the rain. Hmph. We also remembered Andrea saying that Sunday would be nice out west. She had read the forecast.

Long discussions ensued as to whether we should drive for another 90 mins to Dumbarton, 2 hours to Loch Lomond, 60 minutes to Limekilns (I don't like Limekilns, says Caroline) ....we resisted calculating how long it might take to reach Kilnsey or the south of France. We concluded that going to Alien Rock would probably result in a slating ("why aren't you outside??") and that we'd already spent enough money on fuel. The only sensible option left was a trip to Ratho. At least nobody there would recognise us and give us a hard time for being indoors at the weekend. All the routes and the bouldering would be new to us, and we could have a Sunday treat of some "window" shopping in Tiso's. Yesss.... (we are girls after all, and we do like shopping, even though we vehemently deny it at every possible opportunity. Note, Window shopping. We had spent all our money on petrol.).

No power
So we trekked to Ratho, round the bypass, in the rain, thinking that at least we would get some stamina training in, if not any decent trad. The car park was surprisingly empty. Our previous concerns that rain=mobbed wall evaporated (unlike the rain) and we cruised as close to the entrance as possible.....only to be stopped by a damp, forlorn and very apologetic member of Ratho staff, who told us that the building was closed. Thieves had been digging into the floor overnight in order to steal the power cables. Since there was no power in the building health and safety regulations dictated closure. You must be kidding.....

Once, twice...three times unlucky?
We laughed, oh how we laughed. We had to explain why to the nice Ratho lady, that we had driven (by this time) 120 miles to Northumberland and back, and had still done no climbing. Sheepishly, we retreated to Alien Rock, expecting it too to be mobbed (rain+Sunday+Ratho closed surely must=busy), but it wasn't. As it was we had a pretty solid afternoon's training. We did feel marginally stupid turning up with 50 litre rucksacks, a full rack and 3 ropes, but the hundreds of 7-year olds there probably thought that was normal for hardcore climbing chicks like us.

We were mildly consoled by J's comment that Alien Rock wasn't busy because most people didn't have our dedication to their sport; they'd gone out, got wet, sacked it off and gone home.

We, on the other hand, drove 130 miles to end up at Alien Rock.