Thursday, 29 December 2011

Iceland

I love my snowboots. My feet have so been so warm and dry in all this snow. the only problem with them is when I sink deeper than my knees. Would it have been possible to get thigh-high snowboots?

I love my new camera too. It takes amazing pictures and makes it all so easy. Even in the dark (which it is most of the time here) I don't need a tripod - it just focuses and then remembers what the image looks like whilst it does the long exposure thing. So I'm not getting any blurry photos. Wowee.

I haven't seen the Northern Lights yet, as each evening so far the trip out of the city to see them has been cancelled. It only runs when there's a good chance of seeing them. But I have plenty of time left yet.

What have I done so far? Well, yesterday morning I went outdoor swimming in the pool next to the hostel. I started by sitting in the first hot pot I came to as my bare feet were freezing fast as I walked over the icy ground the 2 metres to the pool. It was so warm. There was even a floating chess set bobbing about on it, so I suppose people really do spend hours in them.

I stayed in this hot pot until it was infiltrated by young children having a snowball fight. The Icelandic version of water polo perhaps? Then I switched to the main swimming pool which was cooler, but still a good temperature. I couldn't see how big the pool was because it was dark and the rising steam made it really misty. So visibility was down to about zero. I kept swimming round corners and bends and discovering more and more pool. Or maybe I was just swimming in tight circles and thought I was discovering new bits. At one point I swam under a bridge and discovered an elderly people's exercise class going on in one of the lanes.

Once I'd had enough of swimming I sat in a different hot pot - one with bends, corners and alcoves and watched the sun beginning to rise through the fir trees. It got slightly above the horizon which is about the best to be hoped for at this time of year. It gets light around 11am and is dark again well before 5pm.

Í've also been drinking lots of good coffee whilst I've been here. I think Icelandic coffee is second only to Dutch coffee. It's dark and strong and doesn't come in a bucket. Last time I was here I discovered a new little coffee shop called Cafe Haiti. It's run by a woman who is one of only two Haitians in Iceland. She imports the coffee from Haiti and roasts it herself. When I got home I wrote a review of it on Trip Advisor. The first day I was here I saw an advert for Cafe Haiti in one of the free tourist papers. It was quoting a customer who said they'd gone to Cafe Haiti because of a review they'd read on Trip Advisor and it really was as good as the review said. I've since seen the same ad in several other places. As far as I'm aware I'm the only person who's written a review on Trip Advisor so I must be the reviewer the advert is referring to. Does this make me famous? Or at least semi-famous? Even though no-one knows who I am. I'm glad my review (if it is mine - I will have to check when I'm not paying for internet) has done her some good. I've been back today and she is now in bigger premises.

Friday, 23 December 2011

New year, new challenges

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions. And anyway, I think more in academic years than calendar ones, so January is a third of the way in for me. I'm thinking of changing that this year though, and setting myself a few challenges. Not resolutions as such, but things to achieve during 2012. Since I've started keeping my list of 60 things and regularly writing about them (very tenuously sometimes, I know) I've realised how much more focussed I am and how I tune into things that may help me achieve my challenges. So maybe I should try a yearly list too. It might help me get more done and make me more 'micro-focussed'. In a book 'Getting Things Done', I read earlier this year it was recommended that tasks are broken down into minute stages to make them more achievable. So by creating a yearly list I'm on my way to setting step-by-step target stages for my overall challenges. I'm still at the thinking stage, but my ideas so far include:


  1. Floating in a floatation tank (I'm hoping to do this in London during the February half term)
  2. Reading at least 10 books from the BBC Big Read list (if I read 10 a year, I'll have the whole 200 knocked off in the next 12-13 years!)
  3. Taking at least one photo every day of the year (this will improve my photography skills, be a photo-diary of 'year in my life', and help me to learn to use my new camera)
  4. Coming up with a fitness plan and sticking to it (the start of my training for Kilimanjaro, though I may not actually climb it for several years yet)
  5. Leading at least 4 of my own walks (good practice for my walking group leader's qualification)
  6. Buying another house (need to get my finances in order first)
  7. Learning to use at least 3 new pieces of technology or computer programmes (not counting my new camera)
  8. Doing a writing course (depends on the length of the couse whether I'd complete it in the year or not)
  9. Getting at least one piece of writing published (paid or unpaid, as long as someone else makes the decision to publish it and it's not self-published)
  10. Making a start on sorting out my photos (putting the prints that are currently still stuffed in packets into albums and getting all my photos scanned into the computer - no way will this be completed in a year, but I'll feel good even if I get started on it)
  11. Buying a car/van that I can sleep in (and doing any necessary conversions/adaptations)
  12. Getting into cycling (even if it's just short cycles along decent paths)


That's twelve. The equivalent of one a month, which seems a good number for a yearly list.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

At Home

By Bill Bryson

As I didn't have to be in work till 11 o'clock this morning I stayed in bed with a cup of coffee and finally finished the book I'd started when I went to Norfolk. It's taken me a while as it's so chunky - 632 pages of text and another 70 pages of bibliography and indexing.

I chose to read this book in Norfolk as it was the only book I could find with a Norfolk connection, albeit a bit of a tenuous one. Bill Bryson lived in the UK for years with his English family before returning to the States for a few years. When he came back to the UK he moved to Norfolk and bought an old rectory. The rectory was built in 1851 which I think is the year my houses were built.

Bryson became interested in the history of his house and using each room as a starting point ended up writing what seems to be an all-encompassing social history. He discusses the history of servants, food, clothing, childhood, sex, comfort and luxury, hygiene, plants, science, and so on and so on. He sets the scene by referring to events going on at the time his house (and so my houses too) was built. The Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace was in 1851. This was also the time that Darwin was first finding fame (with a large and detailed book on barnacles) and the year that Moby Dick was published.

Bryson lives up to his usual standard of writing an easy to read, page-turner of a book that is informative and engaging and full of facts about the evolution of everyday products that I've always taken for granted and didn't know I needed informing about. The book is injected with light humour, but finished with a detailed bibliography for those who want to take it all more seriously and maybe do some further reading on a particular topic.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Getting ready for Iceland

I'm so busy at school at the moment I feel like I still have so much to do to prepare for Iceland and I'm not getting time to do it. It's a week today that I go. I keep thinking about clothes. It's going to be cold - even if the temperature hovers around zero the wind could make it feel a lot colder. And it's going to rain. Vertically, horizontally, diagonally, it's going to rain. I'd thought about getting a really good winter jacket such as a down jacket, but it seems the jackets that are made for warmth aren't particularly waterproof. Down in particular, is really not recommended for wet weather, though it's the warmest thing out there. So I'm just going to have to layer up underneath my waterproof jacket. The problem with that is that there's only so much I can fit underneath it whilst still being able to move. I've just invested in some new thermal leggings and vests and I tried them out yesterday. They are very thin, but kept me really snug, so that's a partial solution.


I've just reproofed my jacket. Last weekend the rain soaked right through so I knew it had to be done. I could have done with some rain this weekend to test it now it's been reproofed, but I'll just have to settle for spraying water on it. If the reproofing hasn't worked then I'm going to have to find the time and money to get a new one before I go.


I've also reproofed my walking boots and bought some snow boots. I'm thinking about getting a new backpack before I go too. My current one has been held together with duct tape since the Great Glen Way, so I do need one. But I was going to wait until Easter when I go to Germany and then check out Deuter packs. As it's a German brand there's so much more choice there.


I've played a bit with my new camera and tripod, but not nearly enough. I didn't take it out yesterday as I thought I would be walking with the group and so didn't want to be faffing about. As it happened I could have got some great practice in.


I've bought the Rough Guide to Iceland and had a quick look through it, but I don't think it's as good as the Lonely Planet I used 2½ years ago. So maybe I'll take both. I still have to decide on reading material. I'm envisaging spending a lot of time sitting in Reykjavik's wonderful coffee shops, relaxing and reading.


The hostel has emailed me to inform me of their reception's Christmas opening hours and to ask what time I'm expecting to arrive. As I should arrive during their opening hours that's straightforward. At some point this week I need to renew my travel insurance and book the Northern Lights tour. Then of course I need to pack. And do the million and one other things that need to be done with my house, work and Christmas before I can actually go on holiday.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Hathersage walk that wasn't

For a long time now, my small walking group have had this weekend set aside for our Christmas meal and walk. We met in Hathersage yesterday for Christmas lunch in the Little John pub and most of the group stayed over in the pub's 'cottage'. I booked too late to get a room at the inn and the youth hostel is closed, so my plan was to drive home last night and return to Hathersage this morning. I only live an hour away so it wasn't a big issue.

Saturday morning I woke to snow. There wasn't much at home, but once in the hills there was lots. The roads were fairly clear though it was slow going. I arrived late for lunch, but at least I got there (a big achievement for me considering my recent record) and I wasn't even the last. We had a nice lunch which lasted a few hours and then retired to to the cottage for quizzes, games and drinks. I didn't want to stay too late as I was concerned about the roads icing up over the tops.

I left about 7.30pm and had a fairly easy drive. The roads were a bit snowy, but there wasn't too much traffic and what there was seemed to be driving carefully and slowly. Then just before Hayfield, on a bend on a hill, there was an accident. I could see the blue flashing lights of police cars and ambulances and the narrow road was completely blocked with traffic starting to back up. I was ready for a long wait. Then I noticed cars pulling out from behind me and turning up a side lane. I'd actually assumed it was just a track leading up to a farm, but unless it was party night at the farm (a barn dance maybe?) it had to be more than that. I made a snap decision to follow the cars and see where they went. I presumed they must know another way into Hayfield and if I stuck close they could lead me.

Of course being a little side lane, no more than a single lane track, it wasn't gritted and was probably a tricky road to drive at the best of times. I slid around a bit, but it was fine. I stuck close enough to the cars in front to see where they were going, but left enough stopping room in case I went into a slide. Just as I wondered what would happen if we all met an oncoming car, one appeared. Luckily it was a 4WD with a driver who knew how to use it. The car went up the side of the bank and was almost at 90 degrees as the driver allowed us all to get past.

Eventually I got to Hayfield and continued on my way. This morning when I woke up everything was white. After driving home last night, I knew how bad it would probably be further into the Peaks, but decided to give it a try. There wasn't much traffic and even the grottiest roads looked pretty. Just outside of Glossop everything came to a standstill. The hill was pure ice and cars going down (my direction) were sliding. Cars coming up were ... well, they weren't. The gritters were out, including a couple of men gritting by hand, cars were being pushed, one was being towed by a truck. I finally got clear of the area at 10am which is the time we were meant to be meeting up ready for our 10.30am start. I sent a text to say I probably wouldn't make it and decided to decide at the end of the road what to do.

As it happened, the road up into the hills wasn't too bad at all. It had been well gritted and as a main route had already had enough traffic to break the ice and snow up. The fields were white and as I got close to Sparrowpit so was the air. The clouds had dropped and I was driving in a white-out. Once at Tideswell however, the snow abruptly stopped. It looked like a line had been drawn across the countryside - white on the left and green on the right. I made it to Hathersage for 10.45am but had missed the group. I wandered round for a bit in case I bumped into anyone, but didn't.

I had no idea where they were walking as we still hadn't decided last night where to go. And after driving through all that snow I really wanted to be out walking in it, not walking in the green hills round Hathersage, something I can do any weekend. So I drove back towards my side of the Peaks. The sun had burnt the clouds off and the sky was blue. I stopped a few times to take photos and then parked up in Hayfield to do a walk along the Sett Valley.

As it was now afternoon and it gets dark so early I didn't want to go up into the hills, so instead I walked to New Mills along the Sett Valley trail. Once there I had to turn round and walk back the same way as other routes I could see on the map would have taken too long. But it was nice and I got to see it twice.

I started following the trail along a well defined path and bridleway from the car park. There were lots of tatalising glimpses of white puffball hills through the trees and the river and lake (is it a lake?) were frozen in parts. The trees were white and the ground underfoot made pleasing crunching noises as I walked. The snow was deep and crisp and even. Where I turned back in New Mills I found an old graveyard with wonky gravestones overgrown with brambles. It looked so dramatic all covered in snow. I wandered around for a while taking photos before heading back to my car and home.

I've had a lovely day breathing in lovely fresh tingly air, upping my vitamin D intake and making the most of a white world. And I've added to my track record of going for walks with my small walking group, not meeting them and doing my own walk instead.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Waxing 2

Well I just had my second waxing experience. This is time I went for the whole leg job and it really didn't hurt anything like I imagined. I'm still not sure if I'm brave enough to go for underarms and bikini line yet though. So this might take a little bit longer than expected before I'll tick the challenge off as done and dusted.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Name of the Rose - film

The Name of the Rose is book number 174 on the BBC Big Read list. I've had it on my shelves for a long time but haven't yet got round to reading it. The book was made into a film in 1986 and stars Sean Connery and Christian Slater. I've just watched it for the first time and it's motivated me to read the book. The film is good, but from past experience I know they're never usually as good as the book, so I'm glad I've seen the film first.


The story is set in a monastery high on an isolated hill in 1300's Italy. As a Franciscan monk and his novice, played by Connery and Slater, arrive for a debate ahead of their peers, a man is found murdered. Then another one. And another. Connery and Slater turn into medieval sleuths to solve the mysterious crimes and find a secret library in the process. Unfortunately the Inquisition arrives before they can solve the murders and three innocent people find themselves about to be burnt at the stake. It all ends happily however. Well, at least it ends happily for all except the two people who don't get rescued from the stake in time, the Inquisitor who is killed by his own torture devices, and the library which is destroyed. But apart from that, a happy ending.


I must read the book.

Hathersage Christmas Walk no. 1

Sunday 11th December, 2011


This Sunday my big walking group had its Christmas walk and meal. Next Sunday it's the turn of my small walking group. Both walks and meals are in Hathersage as this is such a good hub and is on the train line from Manchester to Sheffield, so people living on either side of Pennines have the choice of catching the train instead of driving and so can have a few beers with their Christmas meal.

I chose to drive as it's much quicker, cheaper and I didn't feel like drinking a lot anyway.

I picked a friend up at 9am and we were in the pub car park in Hathersage by 10am. The pub we'd chosen was the Millstones and is just outside of Hathersage on the road to Sheffield. The car park had a few goats and a collection of micro pigs and piglets roaming around. The piglets were for sale at £60 each. Tempting, but as I don't have a parish licence (it's not that straightforward to buy a pig) I wasn't able to give in to temptation.

It started to rain just as we began walking, so it was wet-weather gear all the way. We followed a path at the side of the car park downhill into the trees and headed towards the railway and the River Derwent. We walked along a back lane of Grindleford, past Padley chapel, through the Longshaw Estate and ended up at Surprise View from where we walked along the road back to the pub.

We stopped for a coffee break at a shelter behind Padley Chapel and also stopped to take photos of a waterfall and of the money tree on Longshaw Estate. The money tree is a horizontal tree trunk that has been embedded with coins over the years. The coins are firmly hammered in, so there's no removing them. This is supposed to be a tradition associated with good luck, making a wish (similar to making a wish when throwing a coin into a wishing well) or getting rid of illness (if someone removes a coin they could become ill). See here for an Daily Mail article on money trees.

Once back at the pub we all piled in and took over the toilets so we could get changed into clean and dry clothes. Then, drinks and meal tickets bought and paid for, it was time to attack the carvery. Carveries are great for vegetarians. I piled my plate high with roast potatoes, veggies, bread sauce, stuffing balls, yorkshire puddings, cauliflower cheese, and horseradish sauce. It was delicious and I left the pub a few hours later feeling several kilos heavier than when I'd entered.







Sunday, 4 December 2011

Iran in the news

Iran has been in the headlines again this week. Firstly because of the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran, and then because of the Iranian diplomats in Britain being given 24 hours to leave the country. The attack on the embassy in Tehran seems to have been a terrifying ordeal for those inside. They say the police stood by and allowed the 'students' to carry out the attack. If the police were standing by does this mean the attack was condoned (or even instigated) by the government? The Iranian foreign secretary (I think) did apologise, but how genuine was this apology?

Britain sending the Iranian diplomats back to their country seems a bit tit for tat (though in a much nicer and less terifying way). Yes, we're making a point, but what is it really going to achieve? It just seems to me that the situation could be much more easily resolved in our favour if we kept them here. For starters, if Iran is such a threat then surely we need people on the ground there to keep an eye on things for us. How is that going to happen, if we have no ambassador or other embassy personnel there? If we allowed the Iranian officials to remain here, the path of safely returning diplomats to Iran would be much simpler and quicker.

When I went to Russia in the mid-1980s it was the time of the cold war and Russia was the most misunderstood and least known country on the planet. Everyone thought they knew all kinds of things about the USSR, but as most of their knowledge and perceptions came from American spy films and propaganda, much of what they thought was wrong. When I told people where I was going their reaction would either be one of disbelief or one of fear and paranoia. "But what if they don't let you out?" was a question I was asked all too often.

These days it seems like Iran is the new Soviet Union. Most people have never met anyone from there or anyone who has been there, let alone thought of going there themselves. The presiding image of Iran in most people's minds is of crowds chanting "Death to America" whilst burning American flags. When I mention to people that it is one of the countries I would most like to go to, and indeed when I told people I was actually booked on a trip to travel around Iran (it was cancelled as there weren't enough people on it, so I never actually got to go) their reaction is similar to what the reaction was back in the '80s when I went to Russia. Yet whenever I speak to anyone who has travelled there, or read of anyone's travels through Iran they always speak so highly of the country and its people, saying it's one of the friendliest most welcoming places they have been. As usual it seems to be the politicians who are setting the international tone for their country and doing their own people a great injustice by creating such a negative perception of them.

My dream of going to Iran could be further away than ever now as I doubt there'll be many visas issued to British passport holders for the forseeable future.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Free flights to Japan

I just came across a rumour that Japan is planning to give away 10,000 free flights as a way of attracting visitors back after the earthquake and tsunami. If this giveaway happens, it's thought it will begin in April. I was thinking of going to the Outer Hebrides next summer, but if I could get a free flight to Japan I'll definitely go there instead.