Stormy teller

The recent storms in UK have caused plenty of problems and rekindled memories of “The Great Storm of 1987”. Many reading this will not remember that, but to me they are two entirely different animals. The 1987 storm came right out of the blue, remembering Michael Fish’s “it’s not going to happen” weather forecast just the previous day. And whereas this year’s storm has been a prolonged spell of scattered storms, 1987 was one intense night.

I was living in Chalk Hill, West End as a student, around three miles from the university. Though I had tried cycling in a few times, I had given up and was happier walking in after a few near-misses (Pedantic Note: really they should be termed ‘near-hits’ since they were actual misses) from drivers on narrower than desired roads. I slept through the night of “The Great Storm of 1987” while the rest of the house heard it all, hanging on to their proverbial worry beads (not a euphemism, I hasten to add). In the morning, I turned on my radio, absolutely oblivious to the news I was about to hear. My housemate had a class at 9, while my first was at 11. He set off on his bike and, given the tone of the radio news, I fully expected him to return a few minutes later. When (disappointingly) he didn’t, it was clear that it was possible to get in to the university. I set off and was amazed at the devastation, how many trees and fences had been felled, a sight that I didn’t see again until walking in the last week of 2013. In the evening, we set out into a local wood with our big choppers and collected fuel for our open log fire.

And that was it. A really intense storm in one night. Really wind, but no rain. This recent storm has been prolonged, no one night as bad as in 1987, but the cumulative effect of a number of rough days is at least as bad. Flooding has been more an issue this time and the fact that it is at Christmas does bring greater heartache and difficulty in finding skilled persons to give up time with their families. Yesterday’s walk in particular brought home to me the extent of the damage with overflowing drains aplenty and trees still strewn across pavements, some days after their fall.

You have to feel for all who have been affected. Happy New Year to you all.


Pedantry in motion

Last walk of the year today, I suspect, as shopping is on the agenda for tomorrow. A late start at 12:45 always meant a shortish walk, and I’m feeling a bit cocky that 12.5 miles count as a “shortish” walk. Still plenty of evidence out there of the recent unsettled weather, though the evidence was more today of the volume of rain and some overflowing drains at various points.

No great attempt today to do anything major off-road, except a short sojourn later in the proceedings. However, I did bear off to places less familiar, in the knowledge that I am in generally familiar territory and I can walk a reasonable distance in any one direction and eventually come across a road that I know. So the roads and side roads of Bitterne, West End and Harefield took the brunt of my pounding paces, and despite walking at a reasonably brisk pace, I soon had on the pedants’ hat (yes, yes, I share it with others!) as I noticed the little signs that appeared on the doors, walls and fences. 

I’ve always been puzzled and amused in equal measure by the pointlessness of “No unauthorised persons allowed”. By definition, if you’re unauthorised, aren’t you not allowed? But wait for this one…..”Trespassers will be prosecuted”. What’s wrong with that one? I’ll tell you. Unless that building is a government or defence building, trespassing is a civil offence, rather than a criminal one, so you could not be prosecuted (except for breaking and entering). The house was a bungalow with a decent sized garden so I suspect it was neither a government nor a defence building and, if it was, I would be questioning why there was not greater security evident than a little sign. Or maybe there are trip wires inside or a complex alarm system with invisible laser beams forming a lattice across the hallway? Er, no, probably not. The sign could reasonably have said, “Trespassers will be sued”, but I was not about to put the householder right on that one and I moved further on down the road.

I was further amused by “No Parking – Offenders will be clamped”. Not even their cars, then? The actual offenders. The biscuit was taken and well and truly scoffed by “No vacancy’s” at a guest house on Kanes Hill. There is just nothing more to say about that, but if you are bewildered about this one, please enrol at your nearest Adult Education Centre and ask for “Literacy: Foundation, Stage 1”.

Plenty more to say about this quite interesting walk that included a diversion through Telegraph Woods (and I couldn’t get Dire Straits – Telegraph Road out of my head at this stage) and, even though it was never sufficiently cold to don the woolly hat or black gloves, it was humorous and sad at the same time to see so many parents eyeing me so cautiously and using al their energy to ensure the safety of their children. Obviously I looked like the sort of solitary loner with a windowless white van just around the corner. I blame Channel 5 for screening Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that dastardly child-catcher last week.

More on this walk in later posts. Don’t want to live your life in one day, don’t go speed your time away. Apt lyrics from someone I saw in concert in 1987 at Portsmouth Guildhall. When he appeared, he bellowed, “Hello Plymouth”. Howard Jones! Never forgiven him!

Here is the news

BONG! Good to hear that the bridge across the Itchen river near Bishopstoke has been repaired. This was the subject of a previous post and spoilt a good walk with my Pammy.

BONG! Rain forecast for every day this week, though to different degrees. Best time tomorrow looks like after midday, while Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each look like having one or two showers here and there. Can’t promise myself that I’m not going to get wet whenever I go out.

BONG! Hayling Island looks a good bet for one of those days, parking in the north part of the island, walking down to and along the seafront and then back up a much more circuitous route to the starting point. Circuitous is one of my most favourite words, unfortunately not in the 100 Most Beautiful Words in English: see I do agree with mellifluous, almost onomatopaeic!

BONG! Ok, rambling on a bit now, so what is the distinction between rambling, walking and hiking, a question I was unable to answer with supreme confidence when posed to me just before the break from work. Well, intensive (what is the difference between that and intense?) research has provided me with the inside line here on these and other apparent synonyms:
ambling: walking, in no hurry
rambling: wandering around in a general direction
walking: going from A to B (a general word covering all these more specific definitions)
Nordic walking: going from A to B energetically, swinging the arms while holding long pointy sticks
speed walking: as Nordic walking, but without sticks, often at a faster pace than the bus in rush hour traffic
hiking: tramping long trails, normally off-road, the main purpose to be to “at one with nature” and breathe in fresh air
hitch-hiking: hiking and cheating at the same time.

I suppose I do all those except the last one. So walking it is then.

BONG! And finally, I couldn’t find the remote control for ages yesterday. When I eventually found it, under the sofa, Pammy said, “it’s always the last place you look”. Yeah, right, I tend to stop looking once I’ve found it.

Roll on 2014, it might be as good as / better than 2013

I hope that 2014 will be one of the highlights of my life, one that in future I will recall to my grandchildren (get on with it, Matt) sitting on what are left of my knees. But this is the time of year when everyone but everyone says, “Roll on [next year], it’s got to be better than [this year]”, just as they said about this year last year. This sort of thing does irritate me. Having said that, there are people I know who haven’t had the best of fortune this year – it’s just that it is said by even those who have very little about which to complain. I have had bad times but I always like to think about the positives of the year. Anything else can make one bitter and twisted in old age.

So here is my highlights package of 2013 (note that I still hope that 2014 is better but I, for one, consider the goods are greater than the bads):

  • Much better mental health, a few down days but they have been isolated with the confidence that I would feel better either the next day or very soon. Really as happy with my lot as I have been for a long time.
  • The commitment to my walk, the reaction and the enjoyment that I get from long distance walking. I don’t mind the solitude at all on any one day – and I love having the thinking time it provides. The walk has given me possibly my biggest ever challenge and my life is so much better for it.
  • Incredible that over half of the £5,000 target for SANDS has been raised, and I haven’t even started the walk yet!
  • Fitness – ok I still couldn’t run even 3 miles, but I can walk 25+
  • Having a super team at work, incredibly united behind the cause. Very flattered indeed that there were other people panicking because I was to be away for 11 weeks!
  • Presented (again) at an international conference in Canada.
  • Being so proud of Matt, coming back from a really serious spell of injury (and at a time when seemingly no-one cared) to be part of a fantastic crowd at Sholing FC, that won the Hampshire Youth League. Proved to himself and others that he could still do it and really battled through the second half of the season when he should probably have rested. A year off now and the very overdue ankle operation and hopefully he can ‘kick on’ next season – he’s taking it as it comes. As a person he has matured and is much more a grown up than he was a year ago.
  • Pammy – as always. No year could ever be bad when I’m with her.
  • Helping to save Pompey. These are troubled times, and will be for a while until the legacy of previous owners’ financial neglect is sorted but, crikey, Pompey are in a better spot than they were one year ago. I don’t go very often now but I put in my thousand quid for all the great memories I have had from that great club.
  • Another successful and enjoyable cricket season at Sarisbury, more eventful with Liphookgate, Banksygate, Umpiregate or Guttergate, whichever you choose. I like to feel I played my part in the club’s success, even though I don’t play, and the only defeats for that first XI were to local rivals Burridge. Damn them!

So 2014 will hopefully be great, but so was 2013.

Continuing changeable?

The English staple discussion of the weather probably stems from a social unease, that debating the chances of rain serves to deflect attention from less trivial matters. But to me it is almost the most serious conversation I can have, apart from about aches and pains, another typically English conversation starter, at least for the older half of our population, of which I guess am now a member.

Is there ever a perfect day? Too wet, too cold, too hot, too cloudy, too humid, too close, too still, too windy? Not really, the weather is purely a vehicle for tongue wagging, we are never happy whatever it is, but we just make the best of it. 63 days of walking – I certainly don’t want 63 wet ones or 63 hot ones. Even 63 dry ones, which might seems like a perfect outcome, and we’d be fretting about drought and water companies would take that as an excuse to raise tariffs and impose hosepipe bans. I would imagine the perfect weather would be for it to rain at night and be dry but not too warm during the days. So if I am actually the star of 2014’s version of The Truman Show, that’s what I want. Any one particular day: dry, about 10-12 degrees, some cloud is ok, sufficient that I don’t get sunburnt but not so much to force headlights and streetlights on in the middle of the day. And lay off the wind, unless it is behind me.

Weather forecast for Cornwall in early February looks pretty settled, temperatures ranging between a low of 4 degrees to a high of 11. Nothing in the remotest bit reliable yet for the big opening day (16th February) but, as long as there isn’t snow and we don’t have several consecutive days’ rain, I’ll settle for that. I would like a nice first fortnight while I am in what I think is the toughest part, psychologically as well as physically.

Nothing interesting in this one at all so don’t read

Currently studying much of my route on Google maps and Street View. This was key in dissuading the use of too much of the more direct A30 / A39 route in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. The perspective that the technology provides is tremendous – one can assess the conditions for walking, particularly the existence of a pavement or a reasonable grass verge. The South West Coast Path is a nice and scenic route to take in part, but it does meander and is pretty tough in some places. The alternative is a maze of country lanes, B roads and ‘minor’ A roads, through many villages, some of which are almost too small to appear on the map. Street View, to, can provide other clues. Hills are not always obvious but sometimes one can see a cyclist walking his bike. Now that must be uphill.

One place is a fairly new B&B that has clearly been built since Street View did its stuff in 2009. It is absolutely nowhere to be seen, despite the road name and postcode matching. It also appears on the normal search in Google. What are the chances this is a fraud and I’ll turn up and it does not actually exist? Fortunately, I have seen a large park nearby and a bench, and there is also a Tesco that would have some outside shelter if desperate. Well, I did say I might well spend one night sleeping rough. Seriously, there is always going to be a local paper and some accommodation somewhere. I have read a number of accounts of people who have walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats and it is amazing how many times they get talking to somebody in a pub who allows them to sleep on their living room floor. Not that I want to get into that.

72 views yesterday as opposed to the average 30-40. Shows how much the title of a post affects the site traffic.

Good news on my OBE in New Year’s Honours List!

It’s been a very good year for me and recognition has come over the last few months on a few fronts, one of which is my work in disclosure control* and an external academic data user did comment that I deserved an OBE. Well, in disclosure control, it is often said that no news is good news and there has been no news (and therefore good news) of an OBE. Even if there had, I would have been sworn to secrecy until the official announcement in the New Year. However, there is nothing to stop one saying that they haven’t received an honour. If everybody did that, we could disclose by differencing those that had. Time for me to remind myself that I need to switch off from work over these two weeks.

One thing I have really enjoyed this year is writing for this blog, and to have over a hundred views (105, to be precise) on one particular day was amazing. I don’t take too much stock on numbers of views, though safe to say if there were none I wouldn’t bother writing any more. Interesting though that a post made about a battle against depression should receive so much traffic. Let’s see if today’s, with an admittedly rather misleadingly positive title, can match that. If not, I can only surmise that people prefer to read about gloom rather than less negative stuff!

Today’s walk – an uneventful 15.5 miles. Not the weather recently to get much off-road work in but today it is pleasantly and surprisingly sunny. I realised that the base layer has about four walks in it before it needs washing, so I would guess that means three are needed for the long walk. Still plenty of evidence of the blowing about earlier in the week with the odd tree lying across the pavement, one of which caused a snag on my trousers and ripped a pocket. I barely noticed it until I heard my coins dropping onto the ground. The end of the walk had me stinging in some rather nasty places and reminded me to have Vaseline (note that other petroleum jelly products are available) in my first aid kit.


* A shameless plug here: Happy to sign any copies bought!