Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Some other sort of hysterical pun.

Day 6 (the road to hell).

I had intended a rest day, so instead bolted my breakfast, opted for a two roll lunch, and beetled to the Landplatz for the first bus to Ursprungalm. As usual we shoot up the hill to the Hochwurzen lift, but then, instead of turning round and plunging up Uber- or Ober - Tal valleys, we continue up the road before a left turn up the Ursprungalm valley. "Up" is now the order of the day buswise, the tarmac disappears, firstly on the right hand side just next to my window, disappears in order to turn into a drop, then from under the bus completely as it turns into a track. Our cloud of dust rolls back down the hill behind us (under gravity) enveloping the following car. As the bus ascends through a series of hairpins, the murmur of conversation stills, and then is replaced with a series of very loud staccato exchanges until, after a final corkscrew, we arrive at the alm. The bus driver attempts to make an announcement but is drowned out by cheering and cries of "Bravo!".
The entire bus decamps to walk to the Ignaz-Mattis hut an hour away up the steepest hill in the world, I follow watching them disappear until there is only an eighty year old in my sights, I lengthen sticks and power walk him to the rear, until I have sufficient distance for him not to be able to catch up while I pant. On the right there is the old road, I later learn that this is, in fact, the Roman road - cor. At the top of the hill I emerge onto a flat plateau stocked with lakes and a variety of huts stocked with Austrians drinking beer.
The walk along the top is a joy, plashy streams, snowbanks, flowers and balmy sunshine. As said, it is an absolute joy until it turns downhill following the route of a 10,000 year old tongue of ice, tongues of ice 10,000 years ago were, as are all things subject to gravity, consequently the road dives into the corrie like a celeb out with a non-spouse when confronted by papparazzi. I lengthen sticks  and set off, my cruciates creak, after a couple of hundred feet, I meet people coming up, they launch into a torrent of German,  I explain, "Englander" but from the haggard look on their faces (and the descending view behind) anticipate the question, "Fumpf minutes". Transitory scorn is replaced with hope, the aforementioned view replaces my hope with despair, and I continue my descent for another two hours and 1200 metres, until I arrive at the thirteenth ring of Hades, the one reserved for sinners with dodgy knees. I consult the bus timetable and realise that I have 55 minutes to travel the 45 minutes to the bus stop, otherwise I have to wait another 2.5 hours for the next bus! "Ten minutes to spare - easy peasy you think." Please bear in mind that my legs have just gone through two hours of muscle-wilting descent, and that my lactate levels are now up somewhere in the region of Wensleydale cheese. I bravely soldier on, fighting through the pain and arrive 8 minutes before the bus. This puts me back at the hotel with an afternoon to spare, I limp to the swimming pool and jet various muscles while trying not to look like a pervert. The pool is (somewhat  mysteriously) packed, on the way home the supermarket and all the shops are (somewhat mysteriously) shut. I peruse Google, it is Corpus Christi, a national holiday. During the evening it begins to rain.

Day 7.
The day dawns grey and drizzly, rather like my hair, after a leisurely breakfast I decide to have a leisurely day. The Hochwurzen has opened post Corpus Christi so I decide to go up mountains new. At the top, I head to the summit through squally rain and the nature trail which has poster boards displaying pictures of things you'll never see (apart from the trees), and then lose my presence of mind; I extract the map, " If I go to the col, then I can go down that path and contour back to the top along that one." This I duly do, bravely ignoring the screaming agony of my quads, after the col I realize that "that path" appears to go about halfway down the mountain, but I persevere, this may be a mistake, as I had forgotten basic geometry, the circumference of a cone increasing the further away from the apex you are, I am now a considerable distance down from the apex of the mountain, so that my half an hour transit of the summit has become a two hour plodding return.
Once again there is a race for the bus - I win!

Day 8 (the last).
After a late breakfast during which I allow myself coffee, something I normally avoid due to its diuretic properties I walk to the Planai lift, watch a bit of the World Cup Mountain Biking and then ascend to have a last stroll around and over the summit. After I come back down there are still some hours to kill so I walk back up the Talbach gorge. At this point the coffee makes its presence felt, so that I arrive at the top rather hoping to see a dearth of people ( or rather not see any people ) - failure. I walk further up the valley, past several people cutting hay, some children go-karting, wide open spaces with not even a tree for cover, eventually a woodland hoves into view, I accelerate past an Austrian tourist and insert myself into the wood behind the nearest shrubbery. A few moments later, much lighter, I return past the same tourist who informs me that I should have turned right at the wood, my internal dialogue responds with, "Ha!". I arrive back at the hotel two minutes before the cab, bid farewell to Rita and Peter and am removed back to the UK.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Massif high Styria

Day 4, The day started as it always does in Austria at  -- oh bloody bells!
Caught the bus to Eisachalm to do the gentle stroll through the woods to Neualm, before continuing on the mountain path to the Keinprechte hut, before going back to Neualm to pick up the level path to a lake beginning with D, which I'll put in in the edit ( yes I do, difficult to believe huh? ).
The bus was the easy part, twenty metres down the path it split into two, I consulted the guide, " The path follows the river most of the way...", I plumped, indeed it did follow the river, about 60 metres above it. The forest is hot and humid, and prone to throwing bits of road across the path. After 90 minutes there is a break in the crepuscularity, another road? No, it is Neualm,  "a welcome relief from the forest" this bit is true. Neualm is a small flat shelf with a river dropping in on one end and separating to form small islets, " while you relax on the terrace the kids will find something to do by the river " mayhem or torturing small animals probably. This river terrace sports two different sorts of gentian, and "eek" frogs, the "eek" is me narrowly missing one of the frogs, it stared at me reproachfully, and deliberately refused to come into focus for the camera. I continued up the road past the fall, and was then directed off piste, onto one of those paths that are a delight, gentle ascent, either big stones or nice flat ground, lots to look at, well if you like big stones and flat ground. These are my major points of focus (frogs apart) these days, as my ankle tendons now roam unfettered by their capsules occasionally deciding to work for someone other than the necessary proprioceptors. What I'm trying to say is that they sometimes allow my ankle to roll indiscriminately, painfully, bone-chippingly and stuck at the top of a mountain - ly, consequently my gaze is normally directed downward to look for lurking twigs that may cause me to dial 140 and exercise meine Deutch, or at least exercise the operator. This is why I know that the Austrian alps are full of frogs, and devoid of birds, quite a few ants too, "Crikey look at the size of that one!".
The path continues up and, suddenly, we have left namby-pamby alm, for proper mountain. The air temperature drops due to the presence of a lot of snow, the flag flutters from the hut, up, and in the distance, and Marmots begin to whistle provocatively. "Why provocatively, Captain?" I'll explain:  The Marmot lives in the high mountain in burrows, when a marmot sees something it doesn't like, in this case me (which is why I've demoted it to lower case), it whistles to tell its friends to come and look at the bright red thing and hide the children. I, of course want to see the marmot, and am therefore forced to search the mountainside for something I can't find, prey species very rarely sound off with "I'm over here!", so the marmots whistle comes from erm somewhere over there, or maybe over there. I search, nothing, provoking me to offer the  corrie "bloody marmots!"

The Keinprechtehutte sits on the lip of the corrie, I sit, don my fleece for the first time this hols, and order peppermint tea, while watching elderly men order pints of beer, a couple, for elevenses, are there no prostate problems in Austria? I consult the map, I could go up that, which looks fine except that it's twice the height I think it is, this is not Snowdonia, well actually that ascent might be about half of it! I return back the way I have come, via frogs and froglets, until at Neualm I divert to the path  leading to the lake beginning with D, Duisitzkarsee..
The path " is level with no major ascents or descents, but care must be taken because of the numerous stones and roots.", there are indeed numerous stones and roots, and the path does not have any major ascents or descents, what it does have are innumerable small ascents and descents, amounting to several major ascents and descents, in fact an indecent amount. After 90 minutes I sense a change, light filters through the trees, the forest opens, my knees hurt marginally less. Over a rise we find Lake Duisitzkar, in front of me there is a dog standing up to its haunches in the lake, it seems to be doing nothing, a bemused gaze passes between us, the same sort of gaze that passes between the litterer and the outraged mild-mannered witness.
"What?" plangent.
"WHAT!" demi-interrogative.
I move on, moving being a relative term after the lack of major ascents or descents, I'd love to stop at one of the cafes but have no idea of the time of descent (AKA can I get the bus?), however, the number of people milling about might point in a positive direction if I didn't know that I had already failed to catch up the 80 year olds who passed me 5 minutes before I'd finished lunch (incidentally the two pint elevenses person and spouse, perhaps he had a pressing need). I persevered, starting off on the forest trail (descending a cliff in a series of zig-zags surrounded by trees) and moving to the forest road ( descending a steep hill in a series of zig-zags) after most of my lower body had forgiven me - briefly.
I arrived an hour before the bus, had a sit (potentially bad) before getting the bus and getting a seat ( good, but potentially bad ), forty five minutes later I had to get off my seat and the bus (very bad - such potential!) and tin soldier my way to the hotel for prophylactic, but excruciating stretching.
We ate, the lady in the next room vomited for 6 hours, after a lot of internal discussion I decided I didn't have food poisoning, and so drifted into her troubled sleep.

Day 5,

The dawn brings the same lady in distress. At breakfast I plump for a trip up to the Dachstein Glacier, and depart to fight my way onto the bus. At the cable car there is a ticker, "No ascent without reservation", I move to the reservation and ticket office and show my Sommerkarte, giving me a free ride, this is where things go wrong:
"Sprechense Englishe bitte?"
"Umm, could I have a reservation?"
"When do you want to go up"
"As soon as possible."
tappety tap tap tap
"One hour?"
"Fine there's plenty to do round here."
tappety tap, zizz - one piece of paper.

During the intervening hour I set off for the Sudwand hut, in an attempt to scare myself crossing a snowfield on a steep slope - I succeed. I return to basecamp and meet Peter and Rita, I tell then they should book right away as there is a one hour waiting list, they do, and, mysteriously end up on the one behind me. I should explain that this is an act of faith for Rita, not great on heights or buses. I get on the car, sadly not the one with the outside balcony, where people talk quite loudly after take-off (see Day 6), and whizz my way up a thousand metres or so. At the top (in cloud - ho hum) I check all buckles and pockets, push my recalcitrant specs up my nose, knowing full well that at the first opportunity they will lemming into the void, if I had gold fillings I'd be breathing through my nose exclusively, and move out onto the glass panel of the "skywalk". before attempting to take a picture of Rita in the approaching car. Whether it is the motion sickness pills I cannot say, but someone is ecstatic with achievement. After a brief flirt with 6cm thick glass, we move onto the glacier and set off for the wrong walk (mea culpa), ending up doing a partial ascent of an arete, someone is more ecstatic, up to a point. A point which Pete surpasses by about 100 metres, presumably to contemplate what may have been unleashed. We return for coffee in the restaurant and talk about the pieces of paper.
"When are you due to go down?"
"Well look that's your up time and that's your descent. You were supposed to go up at 10 and down at 11, look at ours."
I replay the conversation from 1000 metres ago.
"When do you want to go up?"
"As soon as possible."
tappety tap tap tap (aka "I'll do it for now").
"One hour?" (at the top, or would you like more).
"Fine! Some sort of Englander murmuring that means nothing".

At the ticket office the lady makes a joke about me being 3 hours late for the descent, I can determine no numbers, so presume I'm not being charged.
"I said that you'll have to go down tomorrow morning, it is a joke."
I gurn hilariously, wondering why she would joke with me in Deutch, my loss I guess. To cheer me up after such hilarity, I travel down on the top of the car, like Richard Burton, only without a stunt double but with fences. It's windy.
On the trip back Rita tells me that that Michael Mosely bloke on the telly says that when confronted with abject terror, that one should tell oneself that it is excitement as the hormonal kerfuffle is the same. I commit this to the " potentially useful " box , but far enough away from the "that Michael Mosely, what does he know!" box to avoid collision.

Coming soon: abject excitement as I descend 1000 metres with my original knees after an ascent on a bus that reduces the passengers to an excited silence.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

High Styria

I had begun to panic and signed up for a week with Thompson in Austria, that is after extensive searching, hiking over walking, that sort of thing, which is why you find a grizzle-haired cove, bashing away at his keyboard, dressed in his pants. He is in the Kirchenwert Gasthof in Schladming, and it is hot. The TV is not tuned in to anything, the bedside lamp has a broken bulb, but on the other hand it is the biggest Austrian single room he has been to in his life ( and, for older readers, it doesn't look over the slurry pit) and, due to bathroom refurbishment, it doesn't have a medical toilet, this is a big plus! The one minus point is that it has a faint whiff of fags, dispersing with the open window. This is a perennial problem in a lot of hotels but here in Austria it is compounded by smoking being a sacred right, cig heil perhaps!

As usual I had planned to arrive at the airport the advised two hours early, but had managed two and a half, thirty minutes after arrival I was standing in the maelstrom of departures. Two dull hours later (the people offering tasters in duty free always seem to disappear at my approach) I was privy to a conversation between the boarding gate crew of "Shall we tell them now?" "No, let's get them all in.". We took off an hour late.

Salzburg airport, minivan to the resort with two others, indicative of its popularity. Arrival in hotel dating from 1680.

Dinner ( I am all inclusive ). Soup with kneudl, Weiner Schnitzel ( when in Rome ), tired pancake stuffed with ice cream, seven other diners, all of whom left, small jug of white wine, and a large beer which I watched being combined from several others. As I left the kitchen staff had a pizza delivery!

Day two, starts as all Austrian days do at 6.00am when the churches go off. At breakfast I meet the two other people in the hotel, Rita and Peter from Manchester (you've no idea how I'm longing for one of the waiters to be Dieter). I depart to the main lift, Planai, and decide to ascend something beginning with K - Krahbergzinken (2134m). Halfway up the rep rang, Schladming being so underwhelmed with Thompson tourists that we have a virtual rep. I mentioned the room, she said she'd see what she could do.
At the top as I turned to go, I met Rita and Peter. I descended and before completing the other side of Planau panorama walk, popped into the WC, one of those that the Austrians like to do, they have mirrored windows, so that while you're ensconced you can look at the view, and crowds of people standing around wondering why there are mirrored windows. This one even had a theme - paradise, featuring a very buff Adam and Eve, though apparently Adam had been sporting some bling in his rib as it now decorated Eve's navel, wait a  minute though, she wouldn't have had a navel! Ok, so featuring two models pretending to be Adam and Eve, there was sufficient greenery to protect their modesty, or whatever it was needing protecting. Eve was being demure in the WC, looking away from the throne, but making distinct eye contact at the urinal ( better than laughing I guess?). But I digress, who should walk past but Rita and Peter, and who was in the cafe? Yes.
I descended, dumped my bag and set off along the river walk that Rita had recommended, up past the hydroscheme, then along a nice gentle path featuring a lot of water sculptures (whizzy things made out of dead skateboards and teaspoons [this used to be a nickel mining community - hence the spoons]), and a heck of a lot of water. I returned via the country route featuring a wooden bridge to get past one bit of none path, which had a rotten board. At the hotel they offered me two different rooms, one that smelled the same as mine had ( a day of open window had dispersed nearly all trace ) and a twin, about twice the size with less storage. I stayed put. Ate my roast pork, drank my wine, mooched about town, and went to bed.

Day three, starts as all Austrian day do with - the f'ing market being set up at 4.00am!
I decide to go to the Reissachfall and the gorge of Hole (hell, not Hell, apparently there are lots, it's Austrian for a place difficult to get your cows out of). Hole is Hell, so many steps, so many steps I'm surprised that the local denizens have not been woken up with me wailing about them in the night. First there are the steps up through the woodland to the bridge crossing the lower fall, then there are the steps up to the bridge crossing the upper fall, then there are the steps up to the bridge that crosses the gorge, which is shut for refurbishment. Then there are the steps just after the sign that says "Abandon Hope", these are not real steps, they are bits of log that are trying to stabilise the sodden earth, they are about the steepness of a stepladder and rise about 100 feet, a third of the way up a toddler is demanding their bottle, apparently we all have to stop and wait. Wait a minute, a toddler, I'm sure there's something about no children under the age of eight! At the top of the glutinous steps there are a series of galvanised walkways AND STAIRS that according to the guide book take us up 260m, however since they go both up and down it's more, my legs say quite a bit more. I meet some Americans, they are from Birmingham, so am I,  I sweat decorously as we chuckle about the coincidence, then they say, "See you at the lake!" and skip off. This leaves me in a quandary, I feel I might die before the lake, and I didn't know there was a lake. As it is there is, I eschew it, lovely though it is and wander on thinking about the Preintaler hut 1.5 hours further on, after 1.2 hours it is .75 of an hour away, I check the bus timetable and turn round.
In the evening I consume several sets of ribs and, apparently, enough booze to set me thinking on the meaning of life, i.e. what's wrong with me that I am single? I brusquely order a small red wine, despatch it, and then dispatch myself to bed.


Coming up, how the Schladming Tourist Board are economical/ingenuous with the truth.
Nick or the Glacier - which is retreating?
Can knees make that sound - and be alright?

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

All roads lead to Loam

A man is standing on the margin of a field, searching through the hedge for a suitable stick, his grey hair is being hardened into a series of vent-shapes spikes as the sweat evaporates through the holes in his helmet just leaving the salt. Next to him is a bicycle, well, it used to be a bicycle, in its present state it has become sculpture, a sculpture signifying the fusion of rural and industrial. It is Nick, one month into his retirement he has had an interview with the bathroom scales, and decided that getting out of the house may prevent over-eating. Consequently, he has decided to go to the other Sainsbury's (the one over the hills and far away, as opposed to the one down the hill by the canal) to see if they have liquorice comfits (they don't by the way, in this time of superlatives this Sainsbury's Superstore is less than the other Sainsbury's Superstore. Speaking of superlatives, when did "average" become a term of approbation: "I thought your light bulbs were average." How different can light bulbs be for crying out loud [FCOL?]? "Why did you give us such a poor rating? How can we do better?" but I digress). Liquorishly disappointed but otherwise laden with heavyweight peanut butter, yoghurt, coffee and olives, he has now decided to embark on a different route back.
Should you wish to follow, the enclosed link may prove useful (https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/demos/os-trig-pillar-80/index.html) if you zoom in on Hemel Hempstead and then find grid ref 080102 (Sainsbury's) you will see a bridle path next to the wood at 104. This was fine, a bit slippery but the weight of groceries in the panniers provided extra traction. At the road he turns right until distracted by a bridleway at Eastbrook Hay Farm. The start of the route is ballasted, at the bottom of the valley he can see that it is concreted, so, throwing caution to the winds, he turns right, past the farm and descends. At the top of the other side the concrete runs out, in retrospect it is probably only concreted to assist getting up it in winter, after a few more hundred metres the slight knobble on the tyres are plastered over with mud, this is fine until the left turn by Hay Wood, heading towards Corner Farm, where the skin of Hertfordshire loam picks up, grass, small twigs and more Hertfordshire loam. After a few more hundred metres a Mediaeval brick factory is happily ensconced under both mudguards and butted up against the brakes. It is here that we join Nick in the hedge, searching for the stick that will allow him to remove some of the log jam. The next 400 metres takes over half an hour and culminates with 100 metres of portage, first the groceries, then the bike. There is a further 10 minutes of jiggery-pokery with the stick, followed by various repairs, then he is off, ignominiously back past Eastbrook Hay, and down Dodds Lane, accompanied by the susurration of tyre against impacted adobe tempered with whatever has been picked up on the tyre rattling and scraping on the inside of the mudguard. Eventually he arrives back at Warner's End, mercifully prior to the School Run (the School Run is bad at the best of times but the school on Green End Road is a Catholic Primary - bigger cars). Knackered, he loses his presence of mind on the last hill, and turns off to go through the wood, 100 metres later the bike comes to a grinding halt, the stick-cleared space now choked with leaves. Stick.
At home the bike is treated to a shower, followed by an extensive application of bike spray. Nick is treated to a large coffee, and a reminiscence of the last time this happened - in Bedfordshire - about 25 years ago.
Moral:- if it's winter, and you have mudguards - DON'T.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Railway Cutting

A man is standing next to the rail-track looking ruefully at the ballast, and picking some of the finer bits of it out of the craters in his elbow and calf. Blood seeps out of said craters and meanders through the downy hairs contrasting nicely with the coating of dust picked up on impact. It is Nick, he has just come to an involuntary stop and put down his foot on the wrong side of the bike, the side where there is no side, just some shrubs poking airily out over the edge of the four foot cutting for the track. He and the bike have paid a quick visit to inspect the quality of the gravel (hard, resistant to gravity, and in some cases, sharp). Ironically he has been hoist by his own petard, had he hired a bike instead of using the free hotel one this may not have happened, but parsimony prevailed.

The previous day I had ascended the Reitherspitze, and now prostrated by the nervous exhaustion engendered by proceeding past this notice (ACHTUNG Sie betreten alpines wegegebiet trittsicherheit schwindelfreiheit und alpine erfahrung sind erforderlich. Which apparently translates as : 
 ATTENTION you enter alpine routes landscape occurs safety swindle liberty and alpine experience are required. Hmm, and I thought schwindelfreiheit meant a good head for heights.), going round the corner and up the ladder conveniently wired to the rock and summitting a mere thirty minutes later. On the way down, I met a girl in one of those spaghetti-strapped tops, the sort that are tight and cut straight across the chest, you know the ones I mean, the sort with breasts in. Anyway, I asked if she had binoculars as I'd just spotted two chamoix, she didn't, but she did tell me that more chamoix were to be found on those alps there, because there were less tourists! I mumbled an apology and she went powering on her way, I mentally christened her "Skippy", and went hobbling on my way (She - L R L R L R L R. Me - L   L   R     L    R LRLRLRL OH SHI...). Anyway I made the cafe, downed a pint, and then downed the funicular. That evening the soup was... wait a minute where was I? "A man is standing next to the railtr..." OK.

As the previous day I had ascended the Reitherspitze I decided to go on a bike ride, the hotel had one mountain bike and about a dozen sit-up-and-begs. I opted for the mountain bike, which was I'll admit, small. After banging my knees on the handlebars I opted for a sit-up-and-beg, number eight or
Achtzie as she was known throughout the day. Slightly more accommodating than Skippy, she let me sit on her upholstered parts, and with the map and guide book in the basket off we went for a trip to the Karwendeltal valley.

Now, there was one thing about Achtzie, and that was that she was very continental, by that I mean that she had a front brake and a barrel brake, an internally mounted rear wheel brake activated by back-pedalling - very easily activated by back-pedalling, wheel-lockingly easily activated by back-pedalling! The start of the journey was through town, and then onto the service road for the railway, this was fine until the first downhill when I had to stop at the bottom - I counter-rotated the pedals a fraction, the bike slid majestically across the grit of the track and piled into the embankment, I went with it. It was at this point that I felt that Achtzie's lack of cross-bar was an unexpected
blessing. Pausing only rub down the new graze on my ankle we carried on to Geisenbach, where I consulted the guide book, "Cross the stream over the bridge and carry on along the gravel track to the right." I crossed the stream. I reconsulted the guide book, then the map, then the guide book again, then the map. At this point I decided that the word for "track" and "vertiginous narrow unstable footpath" must be the same word in German. Achtzie and I continued hand-in-hand for the next half mile, until I decided that the vertiginous schmalen instabilen Fußweg was now sufficiently placid to not ensure instant death. Two minutes later I discovered that there is a tendency for one to backpedal when free-wheeling. We came to a sudden and unexpected halt, and, as explained at the top of this account, I discovered a lack of solid ground under my left foot - for about a second, maybe two, then I discovered a glut of solid ground. I thanked whatever Teutonic pantheon was looking after me by not providing a train at that moment, manhandled Achtsie back up the bank, followed her, stood about for a bit, and then re-descended back to the track to pick up those bits of my "Nick-has-a-jolly-day-out-cycling kit" that had exploded from the basket, my pockets and my psyche, the latter took sometime, so I used that time to do something worthwhile - clot.

Eventually we arrived at Scharnitz, and I started up the valley, after a moment or two I decided that Achtzie and I were potentially missing out on the spirituality of the ascent, so we started to walk up together. Occasionally gangs of Teutons would cycle past, and make some, probably derogatory, remark, "Drei gears!" I would riposte briskly, which usually got me a nod. When the road leveled, I mounted and we continued. It was lovely, eventually the deciduous wood thinned, and we emerged to be surrounded by high mountains and pine forest, it was hot, the air delicious, my legs on Achtzie's robust pedals pedalled me on into the looming shadow of ..."AN ENORMOUS CATTLE TRUCK". Achtzie and I skidded to the side of the road. The Almabtrieb is a delightful rural fete, where soft-eyed, sweet breathed cows bedecked with ribbons and flowers are brought down from the high pastures by their lederhosen-clad cowherds, and are paraded through the villages to the church pasture, where everyone has a drink and a wurst. "Bollocks to that!" says Joe Tyroler "I'll bung them in the truck and drive them down the narrow road at 50 MPH."

After Achtzie and I had recovered, we carried on, I even felt sufficiently relaxed to record a video, here it is. If you listen carefully you will be able to discover the moment when I realise that I'm holding the camera in the hand that I should be using to brake with, thus committing myself to backpedal-brake or 23Skidoo as I came to know it (after the first 22). But you might get some sense of the scenery. I continued for an hour and a half, stopping for water breaks - and involuntary brakes until I got to the point where, for the sake of time, I decided on a discretional reversal, though being stupid I had a bit of an explore first, leaving me to wonder if I'd ever see the track again. However, my keen sense of direction prevailed and I regained the track, it was at this point that I realised I'd been going uphill for the past ninety minutes, as I coasted back to the start point in twenty, narrowly missing a tractor with cattle trailer, an alpine viper and the returning truck.

There now remained only the return, Achtzie and I crossed to the other side of the valley and started up the narrow track through delightful woods dotted with fungi and..."AN ENORMOUS QUARRY TRUCK!" I pulled the brambles out of my calf, and the bike out of the brambles, we continued. It was a voyage of discovery; discovery that there appeared to be trails not present on the map, and discovery that to get from Scharnitz to Seefeld you had to ascend what felt like several thousand feet, up tracks that would put the average staircase to shame. I gave Achtzie a well-earned rest - and walked.

Upon our return to the hotel, I re-stabled Achtzie, returned her key to the desk, and then treated myself - mainly with antiseptic cream.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


KA -CHING! The nine millimetre nickel-clad bullet ricocheted off the bar in front of me and vanished into the cow-bells hanging off the roof. I was getting used to them by now, this was day three of being under heavy sniper fire, I blame myself, I had committed an unpardonable sin (mea culpa), and bought myself a drink.

Several days previously I had been sitting on the toilet checking my texts (as you do) prior to advising Steve Clunes of my ETA at Gatwick to catch the 11.30 check-in. A text surfaced through my slightly foggy early a.m. consciousness, "Check-in 13.25" it said, "Bugger!" I said, tossing up between a re-pack or a trip back to the Land of Nod.

Later I met Steve at Gatwick, and marveled at his sang froid as his suitcase came in at exactly 20kg.
"What a shame you paid for that extra baggage allowance."
"You'll just have to buy something while you're there."

The flight was uneventful, so much so that I rather carelessly finished my first book, they let us into Austria, and we sought out the rep;

"OK, your luggage will be delivered outside the arrivals in the coach park."
"OK, your luggage will be delivered outside the arrivals in the coach park."
Pointing of fingers
"Yes, your luggage will be delivered outside the arrivals in the coach park."
It was, a big train of trucks full of luggage, there was a free-for-all, and we were finally reunited with our luggage..... outside the arrivals in the coach park.We felt the rep's greeting to Crystal Finest customer's should have been met with hoots of derision, but it wasn't, they were probably too exhausted after manhandling their own cases.

An hour later we arrived at Soll, and ten minutes after that at the Hotel Austria, we watched the party in front check-in and then struggle up the stairs with their cases, accompanied by much "Fecking", Steve and I, we took the lift.

In the restaurant we met with Caroline and John and a plate of beef, the beef we dispatched, and then descended to the bar, or the third circle of Hell, the one reserved for non-smokers. The stench coming off my clothes the next day taking me back to the heady fug of the upper deck of the bus on a wet December night. Caroline and I decamped for fresh air, and a look for Hettie, she of Hetty's Darkroom, according to the official map her lodgings were across the road, according to her lodgings they were next door to the hotel, she wasn't there yet, so after a few quick breaths we returned to the bar and found it full (by volume) of Scots. Nick we have already met in Finland, he was accompanied by Dave and Colin. Hettie arrives diverting Steve away from a pounding by the Scots, and moving him towards excommunication by the Pope.

Day 1. Caroline, despairing of "serious skiers" has gone to join the Rep's Tour, Steve and I (not "serious skiers") take Hettie and John off up the mountain, after only a few hours of ski-fitting. I have found a suitable blue for John to practice, sadly getting there involves a completely unsuitable red, but we co.... I was going to put cope, but we get down it; to lunch.
After lunch we go the other way and find a nice blue, I get in the chair with Steve,  and head off up, as we get off, I look at the rutted track for the right hand skier, and think, "Hmm, there goes John." Sadly John thinks that too, scrabbles off the chair and moves to the left, pinning Hettie's skis, then, and only then, does he fall. The chair carries on, the pisteur being more involved in the football on the tv than his job, and Hettie's ligaments ping like perished bungees before she is levered on top of John's now couchant corpus, there is much shouting, anger and pain in equal measure, with perhaps an hint of invective. Steve and I watch,
"Oh dear."
We ski back slowly and painfully, the descent in the cable car is relieved by giving a French PhD student an unsolicited education in the finer points of English etymology, and that is the end of Day 1. Well the end apart from listening to Caroline wax lyrical about where she's been, aka places only "good skiers" go to. Interrogating the reps about "Doctors" and "Insurance", meeting up with the Scots, and drinking beer and schnapps, and wine.

Day 2,3.. Hettie wasn't with us. We did skiing, we were going to do a tour with one of the reps., but the first descent took place in a whiteout so that those of us who didn't get lost immediately were allowed to get lost by ourselves - for insurance purposes. Then we did meeting the Scots in a bar (we did that quite a lot, sometimes by accident. In one bar there were people dancing (it's called continental Apres Ski), one of the people dancing was a girl in bright turquoise ski trousers, much was made of her terpsichory and callipygiosity, so much so, that we were forced to leave, by Caroline, who had deigned to accompany us.
On one of the nights we met Australians (Tosca and Pam, one of each sex, I'll leave you to decide which was which), they were nice too, but not in a callipygian way. They seemed very taken with Steve, deeming him a "character", the Scots deemed him a "headcase"

By this time my lack of fitness, and lack of ability were beginning to tell, I spent long periods of time on the toilet, not for any drastic gastric or prostatic reasons, but simply the fact that I'd run out of viable muscle fibres in my legs and therefore couldn't get back up again. In order to alleviate further damage, we booked a private lesson with Gerhardt, he would give advice to Steve and Caroline, but would give me a look of reproach and disappointment, then tell me to pull my socks up. Eventually I realised that he was actually telling me to mime pulling up my downhill sock and from that point on things went a lot better. Liz, on previous trips had told me to emulate a gorilla, meaning that the gorilla-like stance favoured the balance for skiing, now I didn't only stand like one, but my progression down the mountain looked like one bearing down on a hapless band of tourists, whose "Meet the Gentle Giants Experience" was about to have both "Meet" and "Gentle" redefined.

My last descent of the day was horrendous, I returned to the hotel and attempted to test the energizing effects of my Energizing Shampoo and Shower gel (available as part of the Nixco Acquired Hotel Products range), it didn't work. In the evening we ended up in a hotel full of Geordies where the presence of some pink shirts pinged loudly on Steve's Gaydar. I should point out that Steve's Gaydar works oppositely to normal Gaydar, think magnets, normal :- N to S, Steve's N to N. Hetty meanwhile had had a day of meditation, and was now picking up auras, we resolved to check her painkillers.

Day 4, I commit a Cardinal Sin, see Para 1

We skied over to the next valley, Scheffau, it takes so long that we have lunch and ski back.

Day 5, I am reminded that on Day 4 I committed a Cardinal Sin, I am not forgiven, sniping continues. We meet Dave and Nick in the bar, every time we return to the bar we will meet Dave and Nick. Dave and Nick stay in the bar all day. Sometimes Colin comes to see if they are still in the bar - they are. At one point Steve unwisely starts to imitate Colin, Nick's rejoinder of, "He's behind you" causes the best reaction most people can remember. Aye, you dinna mess with Colin.

Day 6, I am reminded that on Day 4 I committed a Cardinal Sin.We tour, I nearly die of exhaustion but decide not to. The sniper seems to have taken an evening off.

The next day we go home, Steve's luggage still weighs a perfect 20 kilos.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A hazy account of a week in the Lakes.

A man is standing on the top of a mountain, the wind is blowing through his tight blonde crop and running across the Gallic pout produced by his quizzical stare back down the path. It is Ben Louvet, he has just summited Wetherlam and is now looking for the rest of the party somewhere in the middle distance. The party that is being led by the Captain from the rear. The Captain will summit in about five minutes by which time everyone will have had their fill of the view and be planning their accidental visit to the pub on the way back.
"Where's the way down?"
I fumble in my pack for the map, cover for the puce face to descend to scarlet, and gesture at the only obvious path I can see.
They start and begin their descent, I, Nick, the Captain, watch them disappear out of sight, and then reconsult the map, just to check, then consults the compass, amazingly he has guessed right and sent them in the correct direction. Tightening girths and lengthening sticks they set off behind.

It is the annual trip to the Lakes, the time when they bring blessed rain to the drought-riddled farms of the North-West, at the time of writing they are being particularly successful. They had arrived on Friday to coincide with the Tesco delivery (a melange of too many crisps, too many yoghurts and too much lettuce according to his detractors. In reality - it is Tuesday today- there is a dearth of wine), and to juxtapose some scones, jam and cream between their upper and lower mandibles. The evening is spent in the Black Bull, boosting the local economy.

Saturday sees the tops visible, a walk is declared and the majority ascend Wetherlam, and come back to Cottage Pie with a selection  of wine, and Summer Pudding with a selection of wine. Various games are played (with a selection of wine) and the to bed, with snoring, due to a selection of wine.

Sunday is a rather glum day meteorologically, the morning is spent eating (brunch extends from 7.30 until 13.30), and the afternoon is spent at the Coniston Country Show for the Countryside Alliance Party Political Broadcast* followed by Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling where men in their underwear try and throw each other to the ground, something that seems to fascinate Helen, leading to unkind remarks about how much she likes Cumberland sausage.

*As the announcer rambles on about the foxhunting ban (though at one point admits that the population of rural foxes has dropped since the ban - apparently this is a reason to re-instigate hunting with dogs) I become aware of one of the hazards of the countryside, namely Sheila, who begins to fulminate as the announcer drones on:
"Blah blah blah ridiculous curtailment of traditional pursuits....."
My gaze travels to the tweed-clad man next door, and comes to rest, with a sigh of relief, on the deaf-aid lodged in his ear.

In the evening Andy and I cook risotto, such is the complexity of the culinary science that we end up with the usual bevy of sous chefs, and a wine selection.  Here endeth the live portion of the blog.

Here beginneth the stretched memory portion of the blog.
Monday, the weather is execrable, after several hours some of us break and say that we will sail with Sheila. I squeeze into my wetsuit ending up looking like a sausage about to burst, and follow Julian and Sheila to the boat, as I faff, I become aware that something is not right between the two, there has been some sort of rift during last night's games. Tight-lipped the boat is launched and floated round to the jetty, people climb aboard and the sails are raised. The boat streaks like a scalded cat across the lake, plunging and yawing, we turn round and plunge back, round up to the quay and get out. At this moment Julian decides to apologise, I point out that perhaps the apology could have come before his wife took him out to drown him, and by extension, his cousin.

The young people decamp into town to watch Batman, the Captain goes for a stroll up to Tarn Hows through the woods I go with him to keep him company. A first; Tarn Hows is (nearly) deserted, so we came back.  Later, my cousin Simon will arrive, fresh from driving various steam trains around short, narrow Welsh tracks, he will bring his treasured possessions of  guitar and wife Nia, however it is anyone's guess as to what order they come in. The Captain is always nervous around Simon, their growing up being slightly one-sided (see comment about the lake on Tuesday, and extrapolate). Lasagne is eaten (with a selection of wine), followed by a vanilla cheesecake with profligate raspberries and more wine. Day three and no more red!
Tuesday, the weather is vaguely less execrable than the day before, so much so that a further attempt at sailing takes place, it is so successful that Tom nearly misses his student account appointment
with the bank, however the bank (Barclays BTW) assure the assembled Louvet family that they can come later, sadly they fail to inform the student account lady that the Louvet family will be coming later, so she's buggered off by the time they get there, my Barclays shares suffer a small dip. Gallic temperament flares, so we shelter in a game of crib.
In the evening we dive into chicken and leek pie (with a new selection of wine), we also dive into the lake, Ben, testosterone aroused by Catherine's nubility, shows off in the only way a large teenage boy knows how; he bullies the weak and helpless. The view from under the lake is green, cool and tinged with bubbles - mine.
After the meal Peter and I decide that enough wine has been drunk, so we go to the honesty bar and drink beer.

Wednesday, people get up early, climb into cars  and head off for Haystacks (burial, well, scattering place of Wainwright). It's a long drive but a pretty one. Andy makes it seven eighths of the way up, and is suitably thrilled. People are declared satisfied, apart from Catherine whose sense of danger has not been piqued sufficiently, she ought to have been in the boat on Monday!
It is the Louvets turn to cook, they have squandered Tom's tuition fees and a large portion of his inheritance on a leg of local lamb.

Thursday - sunny!  Some boating is done, young people hire kayaks, so that they can be tipped off. The Captain and I take Trenchfoot for a row, rescuing the odd bumblebee, whilst waiting for Julian and Sheila to turn up with petrol. When they arrive, the motor is shipped and a wave of pollution placed in the lake as they motor to Wildcat Island (aka Peel island). Trenchfoot is parked in the secret harbour and the island suitably explored. The lake is re-polluted, people (who should know better) who have been waiting on the quay for a lift back across the lake are picked up and returned to Bank Ground. The boat is packed away. Tomorrow we will leave.....

But before we do, the Captain has insisted that I share a couple of Andyisms with you:

Sheila is a good Christian woman, and as such thinks that one should not take the Lord's name in vain, Michael: "Oh for God's sake!"
Nick: "Umm Mike, try not to do that in front of Sheila, she's a bit twitchy about that sort of thing."
Michael: "Really?"
Nick: "Yeah. Andy your Mum's a Godfearing lady isn't she?"
Andy:  "........................?"
Nick: " Your Mum loves Jesus doesn't she?"
Andy: "................. Ye-es? We brought some up with us out of the fridge."
Slight collapse of other parties.

On driving past Cockermouth, much was made of its potential rudity... followed by:
Andy: "It would be much funnier if it was just called Cock."

Andy: "Molly [the cat] loves Nick, before we came up she shoved her head right in his... ... .... .. hand!"
it was actually my groin but this would have been going too far.