Since returning from lots of snowy Torridonian excitement, I’ve been missing my chances to head out into exciting bits of the country and have been soaking up the joys of Manchester.
Glen Coe is a stunning location near Fort William, surrounded by possibly some of the best hiking in the UK. Ben Nevis is obviously the big name that world+dog forever is walking up the tourist path to the top of for charity, but there’s so much more to the area than the Ben Nevis tourist path. In fact, if you asked me to name my least favourite place in the area, it’d probably be the Glen Coe tourist path. Seriously, don’t do it. If you must do it, know that it will not be enjoyable.
 In my book, Torridon currently outranks it by a hairlength.
But Glen Coe has many more exciting (perhaps less easily accessible!) things to do – the Aonach Eagach – serious and committing ridge scramble, not for the faint hearted, Bidian Nam Bian, probably one my favourite mountains of the area thus far, Ben Nevis’s non-tourist route – ascent via the Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) arete.
Just north of Glen Coe are two ranges of munros – the Mamores and the Grey Corries Ridge – both ridges which aren’t too easily accessible by car, but which look like epics in themselves.
The coming week I’m planning to head up to Glen Coe, spend a few days doing day hikes from a campsite, and them embark on a 4-5 day trek across the Mamores and Grey Corries ridge, starting in Glen Nevis, and finishing at the station in Fort William.
Can I compare this to anything I’ve done previously? Possibly this time in Sweden – except there I followed a valley route, it was much colder, and I stayed in huts about 50% of the time, it’s somewhat comparable to both of these expeditions to the lakes, though I’d envisage camping at a higher level than I did on either of those occasions, and largely, following a set ridgeline, rather than making a crossing of several valleys.
As it’ll be interesting – not outrageously challenging, but there will be some scrambling involved, I’m trying to cut my rucksack weight to an utter minimum. My tent, sleeping bag etc, kit is all very light (apart from my camera!), but I’m going to be testing a theory, and I won’t be taking a stove at all.There’s a theoretical weight trade off between taking a stove, so you can rely on dried food like pasta, noodles, etc and “just adding warm water”. My theory is, that whilst that is true for long treks, it is less true for relatively short moves, where you can trade off the weight and simply take food you can eat cold. Of course, cooked food is nice and warming… but that train of thought fails to take into account what you’re supposed to do whilst it’s cooking (answer: freezing your bollocks off outside!) and whether it might be warmer to get inside your sleeping bag, and then eat some food.
Obviously, it remains to be seen, but the number of times I’ve taken stoves and dried food, and then not used them, for an entire two day trip, means that it’s worth the trial.
What am I going to take? I asked this question on Facebook and didn’t realise that it’d be such an emotive topic. I’m not sure. Probably a list of my favourite cold food: bread, cheese, tomato(s), peanut butter and that sort of thing. It’s 4-5 days, I won’t starve. (Did you know that the longest recorded of someone going without food is a year and 14 days?).
I currently have a resident knee injury, but I’m hoping my poles, plus liberal helpings of ibruprofen will see me round. If not, I’m not the person to do silly things – I give up and head back along the valleys.
What will it be like? I’m not sure. I think this will probably be my most lightweight trek thus far (in one of my lake district hikes – I carried a laptop – meaning I can now claim to have carried a laptop to the top of Scafell Pike… whatever that’s worth!) and that should make things quite a bit easier. In addition, hiking poles can really help steady you when you’re unbalanced due to a weighted back.
I’m looking forward to it. The camera is ready, the bag is half packed and I’m raring to go!
Bring it on!
As I mentioned, I almost never post photos of people, because it’s always an unnerving process with much too potential to cause conflict.
Therefore, I was very careful to seek full permission to publish this photo, but since it is already been published in various places (excitingly possibly also being my first photo in print media?) and was taken specifically for the purposes of distribution, things are much easier.
The context is obviously the exciting things happening at work, and so we needed some photos to illustrate this. It’s surprisingly difficult to take “exciting” photos, of something that’s rather intrinsically unexciting – two people standing in an empty room – without props – but that’s what we needed to do. I don’t really have much experience of shooting these kinds of environments, indeed, shooting indoors isn’t something I do all that much, and if I do, there’s usually something genuinely interesting happening to photograph.
However with Steve‘s help and suggestions and some clever trickery triggering some external flashes, I managed to come up with this:
I was shooting with my 5D, with the 24-105 f4 and you can see all the conditions in the EXIF info.
I really like how I managed to get the space in using the wide angle, but still have the interesting subjects – and by not having them stood side by side, make it looks slightly more interesting.
If I was going to recreate it, I’d aim the flash up a bit, and see whether we could get the faces lit slightly more appealingly, or see whether various different arm movements made it even more interesting, but all in all, I’m quite pleased with it.
When I work from home, I usually work with my curtains closed, partly because of prying eyes in the street, and partly because the extra light makes the screen hard to read.
Yesterday, I saw, through a gap, a glimmer than suggested I should have a quick look.
I didn’t regret it:
Since reading my friend Dan’s travel blog of his exciting day in South Africa where he talked/sneaked himself out of two muggings in a day, I’ve given some thought to how I’d try to handle these kind of situations.
A few months ago, as I was cycling into town after work, I was stopped at the top of an isolated pedestrian bridge by 4 induviduals on bikes and was told in no uncertain terms that I was being mugged. As one of them tried to reach into one of my pockets contains a phone, I held onto it, which brought a few punches flying in the direction of my head. Deciding at this point, that I didn’t really fancy parting company with the contents of my pockets (phone and wallet), I pushed my bike towards them (step-through frames allow for easy dismounting!) and sprinted back in the direction I’d come. After hearing someone say “after him”, I decided that now might be a really good time to start loudly and choosing the most appropriate word I could think of, I started shouting “help” and by the time I reached the original end of the bridge, I was met by a member of the public who called the police.
Since then, I’ve spent at least 6 hours of my life giving statements and doing identifits etc. for an incident that, at most, lasted 30 seconds.
- I wasn’t seriously hurt (there were two minor and inconspicuous bruises)
- I wasn’t seriously missing anything (though I lost my glasses in the affray)
I think it’s fair to say that it went “about as well as an attempted mugging could go”. I didn’t lose anything to the robber and I wasn’t seriously hurt.
I’ve thought long about this. Could I have avoided any issues with them simply by dressing and acting differently? Could I have avoided any physical confrontation if I’d handed stuff over straight away? Could I have done things differently?
Ultimately, these questions will drive you crazy – the answer is “yes, probably”, but the fact is ‘shit happened’ and thankfully I came out of it pretty well this time, so that’s what I should focus on.
Immediately after the incident I was quite nervous, however, I’m very eager to avoid is demonising groups of people – young people growing up in the inner city are generally great people, and, in my opinion, more work needs to be done to help organisations like RECLAIM help empower young people in these areas.
The most interesting thing about the incident now, is actually observations of how people’s reactions to the incident subsequently affected me and the impact that had.
The most prominent reaction has been a statement or something like “hope you’re ok”, which whilst being the easiest, and probably least likely to upset, response, is quite passive.
Interestingly, for me, the worst thing that happened was being asked “What happened?”, and forcing me to recount the details of the incident in detail. It’s not that it was particularly traumatising, but reliving the incident each time I was asked doesn’t really help put the incident into the larger perspective, both for me and the person I was telling it to.
Perhaps one of the less helpful responses was suggestions that I could have been stabbed and being told that I should have just handed over my phone. Whilst there’s certainly truth in that, it’s a really unhelpful perspective to suggest to the victim at that point. Clearly there were worse possible outcomes, however, with the bigger picture, the given response resulted in about as good as one could hope, with an actual guarantee that the suggested response would result in am objectively worse outcome (with still no guarantee it wouldn’t involve stabbing) than what actually happened.
One possibly interesting reaction was being told that they know how I felt, and that anger that comes afterwards is worse than the event – probably an incredibly clear indicator of how clearly personal people’s reactions to events like this are – I suspect they did not know how I felt, as the anger wasn’t forthcoming…
One reaction was to simply label the perpetrators as “manchester dickheads” – possibly objectively true – but still unhelpful, rather pointless name-calling – “Ahah, you almost mugged me. You’re a dickhead! Oooh. I said a naughty word!”.
I’ve had people say that they hope this won’t change my approach to the world – and for me this was the most well-received response – mainly I suspect – because I’d already decided that this had to be the case, within 10 minutes of the incident.
In my opinion, perhaps, the most empathetic response is to ask how the victim is feeling, then be quiet and let them do the talking.
In many ways, however, I suspect that despite people meaning well, I might actually have been happier to not publicise it so much. This may be partly related to my distaste for verbally repeating anecdotes a number of times, but I suspect is also to do with coming to terms with things actually being quite a personal thing, and whilst other people’s perspectives are obviously helpful to themselves, I can find them, at best, hard to relate to, and at worst, somewhat unhelpful.
I was a bit shaken for a while (aka an evening) after the incident, and there’s still the odd flashback or moment where I feel irrationally unsafe, but I’d had enough of talking about it within hours of it happening.
I’m “over” the incident - shit’s gonna happen, in the past and the future, it’s not surprising really, and I’m happy it went as best it could this time.
I’d really like to look forward in life for a while now.
Frequently, people avoid travelling away from tourist focused locations because they’re worried about whether they will be understood, I’d suggest that means they miss out of the best part of the experience.
The stories of trying to communicate (and hopefully succeeding) might be some of the best parts of your adventure.
Here’s my story:
Kosovo has a very divided population. Due to Stuff and Wars and Sad Things, there are people that speak Albanian and people that speak Serbian. They probably understand and speak the other language as well, but for political reasons they do not, and will not understand.
Anyway, 90% is Albanian speaking so I took an Albanian phrasebook and went travelling to a remote southern village (Brod), high in the mountains!
After walking round the village several times, sticking out like a sore sore thumb, I walk into one of the cafés and attempted an Albanian “Meridita” (“hello/good afternoon!”).
Instantly “nie Albanish. Serbish.” was growled back.
“Shit.” I thought.
“Well, no point using the phrasebook”.
I then tried English. No one spoke English. I tried French. No one spoke French. I tried the bits of Swedish know, unsurprisingly, no Swedish. I tried bits of Russian, and hum, had a lukewarm response – Serbian and Russian are somewhat mutually intelligible and share vocabulary.
Then the guy behind the counter whipped out his laptop, plugged it into this crumbling wall socket and connected to google translate.. and via google translate, we communicated, I explained where I was from, and I was able to organise somewhere to sleep that night, and a guide to take me walking the next day!
I had a great time, and that experience of walking into that café will stay with me for a long time!
After a while of playing with video stuff, you realise that it gets surprisingly simple when you just bin the audio and stick music over the top. Sure, there are noticeable differences you can make – putting cut on the change of a bar for instance, but largely there’s very little to it – you’re just displaying a pretty montage that’s easy to watch along to the music.
In that respect, it’s actually pretty dull – rarely can you fit in story arcs, or any kind of links between shots, whilst you know and understand the location and context behind it, generally no-one else does. Ultimately it’s not a very engaging style.
The other extreme is simply filming stuff as it happened. Purely trying to document what happened, as true to what it was actually like as possible. The problem again, is that whilst the context may be clear to those who already are familiar with it, it’s just a blur of random action to a new viewer, the jokes are lost on them, and they’re not wholly sure what it is they’re watching.
I sometimes enjoy watching the videos on some of the action sports subreddits – for instance the /r/whitewater subreddit – generally focuses on kayakers doing big drops dubbed over big dubstep drops.
I’d like to take things to the next level and shoot some action sports mini-documentaries – preserving the audio, providing the context, and keeping those story arcs intact.
It’s easy to imagine that something that’s rather uninteresting and routine to you, is routine and uninteresting to everyone else. When something is wrapped up into a bit of a narrative with a passionate an enlightening explanation, it can be very insightful.
Consider a documentary about school dinners. Simply an explanatory documentary. It would be mind bogglingly dull.
Instead, follow the life of a dinner lady who’s embedded in the community, who’s served up generations of children, who has her own opinion on the value of school dinners. By wrapping the subject matter up into a story about an interesting person, you’ll make it enlightening, and probably quite enjoyable for people to watch.
The logistics of docufilming are a lot more challenging – you have to keep your subject happy and address all the issues you need to address, and, most crucially, you need to take sound seriously. If you’re listening to people speaking, you’ll enjoy it a great deal more if you can hear than well – because let’s face it – subtitling large parts of your work is a good deal of effort you want to avoid if you can!
These may look like cheap MP3 players, but they’re actually cheap and cheerful, high quality, high capacity personal recording devices. These MP3 players with the 3rd part open source Rockbox firmware, clipped to someone’s lapel, can record high quality audio for over 5 hours on one charge – making it easy and cost effective to simply clip these to each of your subjects, yet easily isolate their voices in noisy environments, without too much fuss.
I’ve a few mini-docufilms on the way, but I don’t think they’re as focused as I want them to be and I’m on the look out for new subjects – ideally land based action sports – to be the focus of a 5 minute mini-docufilm. If you think you might be interested – feel free to leave a comment or get in touch.
I’ve never particuarly given a lot of thought to food. To me at least, food is fuel for doing cool stuff, that happens, sometimes, to be quite enjoyable.
I can understand that this may be somewhat at odds with approaches to food as a creative outlet – I can sympathise with this – occasionally I can find cooking quite a relaxing distraction, but traditionally, for me, it’s been something that got in the way of eating something and doing fun stuff. As a result of this approach, I’ve often been quite happy eating relatively few times a day, and frequently repeating the same meals.
A few months ago, I made a significant effort to lose weight. The first few weeks were painful and frustrating to adapt to, but I made an effort to disrupt my existing lifestyle as little as possible so I wouldn’t be tempted to give it up.
- I know I like eating infrequently – usually 2 times a day
- I know I like eating a lot of something
- I don’t generally eat/drink sweet things, this was to continue
It’s interesting to note that whilst I do do a fair bit of hiking, I did lots of hiking before I chose to lose weight, and I’ve not done more or less, since I started dieting – it’s much easier to eat something other than that plate of pasta than to run the miles to work it off.
Essentially, I was on a low-carb diet, similar to the Tim Ferris/4 hour body style-diet’s, with a rest day, that I put on Friday. What this meant was that Sat-Thurs I tried to avoid eating carbohydrates, and on Friday, I was free to eat whatever I wanted (PASTA! PIZZA! CURRY!).
When I thought it through, the meals I’ve eaten for the last few months haven’t varied a great deal:
- 1 or 2 avocados.
- 1/3 to a whole, packet of 200/250g “Greek style salad cheese” aka cheap and cheerful Feta Cheese.
- 2 – 3 medium sized tomatoes
- 1/3 of a cucumber
- 1/3 of a iceberg lettuce
- 1/2 to a whole, small onion.
- 1/3 of a bottle of Newmans Italian Dressing
Notes: any 2 ingredients can be left out, except the dressing.
This is a lot of salad, but is relatively carb-free. If one wanted to economise on carbs further, you’d avoid or cut down the tomatos/onion. The amount of lettuce meant that I’d have eaten a lot of food, which had almost no carbs, or indeed any significant nutritional value.
- 200-300g packet of Halloumi - Mediterranean style grilling cheese
- 1 medium sized tomatoes
Notes: I’ve been trying to avoid this excessively as I’ve been trying to reduce total cheese consumption, but it’s quite quick and simple.
Peanut butter (quick snack/quick meal):
- 1/6th of a 1kg tub of meridian crunchy, no sugar (with added salt) peanut butter, without anything else, with a spoon straight from the tub.
Notes: weird as this is, this is really quick simple and easy.
- tinned tomatos
- I can make relatively passable (if bland by some’s standards) “soups”, probably best left for me to eat. I usually add some grated feta (perhaps 1/3-1/2 a pack) to the top of mine.
- I have a strong preference away from soups with potato or breadcrumbs in them
- 2-3 eggs
- some cheddar + a tomato
Notes: I haven’t actually eaten omelettes reguarly for quite a while, but I’ll happily eat them and other egg-focused things.