Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Brown or Cameron or Clegg

An implicit association test which quickly tests your 'real' feelings compared to what you think you think. The idea is to complete the test quickly and let your sub-conscious dictate your answers.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Get up. Get out. Be what you are

The day is done and I’m running home through the city jungle. In my mind I have gazelle-like grace and a swift turn of speed akin to a hyena chasing down a zebra. This could be either the power of positive thinking or a slight delusional disorder, states of mind separated only by the very thinnest of lines. Nevertheless I feel invulnerable in spite of the doubtful glances from the bus-stoppers as they regard a middle-aged man in tights.

There’s no doubt however that running becomes addictive soon after the realisation that old and under-used muscles respond encouragingly to the stress and do not, as you might first imagine, snap and rip themselves from their anchors. Running is a natural activity to which we are perfectly adapted following eons of evolutionary pressure from predators and hunger. Age is no barrier, muscles and tendons quickly realise their intrinsic function.

But there’s a dark side. From patient first steps to the finishing line of a first 5K, the need to push further and faster quickly leads to a consumerist frenzy of muscle-enhancing lycra, glycogen recovery shakes and Runners World training programmes that require a degree in mathematics to decode. Unless you have ambitions to compete in the 2012 Olympics then you should resist the dark side. Run for fun, run like an antelope and remember that pizza has now become a health food.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

It's in the details

I was driving through Somerset recently with a friend trying to track down some cyclists who'd lost the route they were supposed to be on. As my friend was driving he handed me two devices which had GPS mapping applications on them, one of which was an iPhone, I can't remember the other device.

The mapping on both mobiles was excellent, good signals, triangulating positions, clear mapping, easy-to-use etc. I knew exactly where we were and the best route to where we had to be. However, there was a small difference. One mapping application related our position via a black arrow which travelled as we travelled. The other showed our position with a pulsating blue circle which pulsed and glowed as it moved.

You can probably guess which one of these was the iPhone and which one was the model I can't remember. That small detail on that particular application made me want to go out and buy an iPhone.

Monday, 11 January 2010

First or last

What are the great firsts of exploration and adventure that are still waiting to be bagged? The worthy ones that is, not the first to cross the Atacama on a pogo-stick or the Atlantic on a lilo. Is there anything truly great that has yet to be done but is still within the realms of possibility? Who are the current Shackleton’s and Knox-Johnsons? Is there a corner of the earth still untrodden, un-photographed?

It seems that almost every week now I read in the press or online about another adventurous cyclist setting off around the world for years on end. They’re not the first and I won’t be either. I remember Ranulph Fiennes saying that the only thing that interested him in exploration was the possibility of being the first, the ground-breaker. Without that claim there would be no realistic possibility of attracting funds for the endeavour. However, there are still many, many adventurers willing to save their salary for years and years to finance their own voyages. We’re not reliant on some bizarre and unique method of travel or having to desperately prostrate ourselves in front of a newspaper editor in exchange for some column inches. We just like the look of the road and want to see for ourselves what’s at the end of it.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Dawn of the jellyfish

In the Sea of Japan right now there are estimated to be over 20 billion Nomura's Jellyfish. Weighing up to 400 lbs each, swarms can fill the sea for hundreds of miles and the the Japanese fishing industry is in financial crisis as it's fishermen dredge up tonne after tonne of these gelatinous creatures instead of the food fish they seek. The phrase 'reaping what we have sown' is very apt here. As the jellyfish are slashed and torn by the fishermen before being thrown back into the depths, its last act before dying is to release millions of fertilised eggs.

The Sea of Japan has been remorselessly plundered for 50 years. Predators and prey fish alike have been stripped from the depths and laid out in Tsukiji fish market in ever-increasingly unsustainable numbers. The fertilised eggs of the Nomura's become polyps and produce new-born jellyfish which are now free to grow and grow and grow until they can fill the void to become the primary predators in their habitat. A single adult Nomura's can filter a volume of water the size of an olympic swimming pool in a day, depriving fish of the zooplankton they need to survive in numbers.

The result is fewer of the traditional fish in the Tokyo markets, the end of an industry which has been the architect of it's own demise and oceans full of jellyfish for the rest of us. Be in no doubt, if affects us all. The alarming news for the western world is that this problem is not just a Japanese one. There are about 300 known species of jellyfish, and they are ALL thriving, positively blooming in all the oceans of the world. For them, a slight change in sea temperature means boom-time. Any change in temperature, salinity or levels of nutrients and pollution means it's time to get busy and with their normal predators out of the picture they've got the place to themselves.

If you enjoy any sort of marine based activity or even just a dip in the sea on your holidays then make the most of it while you can. The rise of the jellyfish could be unstoppable and they're reclaiming the habitat they were once kings of in the past.

Monday, 12 October 2009

On the rocks

Tightly clad in a wetsuit that fitted me last year I raced down to the beach along with my team-mates. This was going to be the 'surfing' section of a 2 day adventure race across the rolling hills of Devon. Actual surfboarding, of course, is an acquired skill so this stage meant simply lying on a board and paddling 100 metres out to a checkpoint and back again. Seems simple enough doesn't it? I dumped my rucksack, picked a nice blue board and made for the surf, cleverly positioning myself further up the beach to allow for the current running left to right. How hard can it be, I thought. This shouldn't take too long.

In knee-high surf I confidently leapt on, settled myself centrally and began to paddle, but not quickly enough to stop the first wave I met dumping me off the board and carrying me straight back onto the beach. A rather self-conscious moment, to say the least as I arrived back at the feet of the marshal who'd wished me luck a minute earlier. I'm sure he wasn't smiling sympathetically but I wasn't going to make eye contact.

Looking around, it seemed that a chest-high surf launch was the norm which was logical but equally problematical in the choppy conditions. I estimated a window of about three or four seconds between waves to pull myself up, get balanced and begin paddling like fury to try and straighten up into the next breaker. My technique, however, took 5 seconds. Several seconds later my board arrived back on the beach once more towing me behind it. The marshal's restraint in offering helpful advice was a gesture I'll always appreciate!

Third time lucky and I'm on the board, paddling and over the first wave. I'm away! In a couple of minutes I'm past the breakers and cresting the swells. Five minutes later I'm exhausted. The brief was to use my arms as though I was swimming, but this is nothing like swimming. It's surprisingly difficult to lift an arm clear of the water to reach forward without immediately unbalancing myself. The effort involved in wrenching my shoulders upwards and forwards while lying dead flat is immense, particularly while simultaneously keeping my head up to see where I'm going and maintaining a vice-like grip on the board with my feet. I'm constantly slipping sideways and having to re-set myself and making very slow progress. Looking back I see I'm only about 50 metres from shore and the buoy is a further 50 away.

At about 70 metres out, I'm completely drained of energy and the litre of sea water I've swallowed hasn't helped. I'm struggling and common sense finally prevails. This might not be the most sensible thing I've attempted. I slowly manage to turn around and try to find the strength to head back for solid land abandoning the points on offer despite my team-mates having made it. About now I really begin to appreciate the strength of the longshore current. What really brings it home is the wave-lashed jagged rocks to my right that appear to be the beaching point on my diagonal course. A butterfly-type stroke helps keep me balanced but this is even more exhausting and I'm beginning to worry about those rocks. I wonder whether getting in the water and swimming normally would be the solution but I don't know whether the board would drag me sideways.

Looking up I see a marshal running down the beach frantically waving at me in a sort of universally recognisable semaphore to move left and paddle very, very quickly. Ah yes, why didn't I think of that? I'm now squarely on route for a dashing on the rocks and will almost certainly need a new wetsuit afterwards.

My best option seems to be reverse paddling in the desperate hope of avoiding the rocks and drifting along to the next cove. Just as I do so, however, my board turns around under me and makes for safe harbour. "G'day mate, having a problem" comes a distinctively Australian voice from behind me. Somehow he manages to defy the laws of physics by pushing me forwards without pushing himself backwards. In the end it only takes a few metres to escape the current and I'm able to paddle slowly ashore just short of the rocks.

I pick up the missed points using a kayak. Safe and stable with great big paddles.

Friday, 18 September 2009

A crap way to protest

'Environmental campaigners' dumping manure on Jeremy Clarkson's lawn is an immature and pointless act of vandalism that neutralises the point they are trying to make. Yes, the world is getting gradually warmer and yes, it's entirely feasible that human activity is adding (or perhaps causing) the problem by our casual attitude to the build-up of CO2 but childish stunts like this add nothing to the debate and merely entrench the 'Daily Mail' image of hippy green protesters. Personally, I thought the '4x4 to the North Pole' episode was fantastic, ground-breaking television and a unique adventure which I'd have given my right arm to take part in. It's all part of the joy of being ALIVE! However, we have to be aware of the impact of our actions and take reasonable steps to minimise it. Global warming and cooling has, of course, occurred many, many times during the earth's history. Nevertheless we are, uniquely, the first creatures able to measure it, anticipate it and perhaps affect it positively or negatively.

There's nothing hypocritical about enjoying driving and flying and yet still want to find solutions to the problems caused by warming, whether it's man-made or not. We don't have to be extremist tree-hugging, manure chuckers to be aware of what's happening. We just have to see things for what they are and take responsibility for our actions. We don't have to ban cars, ban aeroplanes, ban wood fires, ban having any fun at all. But if we want to enjoy Jeremy Clarkson's tribe ploughing a furrow to the North Pole we also have to maturely and reasonably contribute to a debate about whether the North Pole ice cap will still be there in 25 years. Simple awareness of the possible problems and their cause and effect is required.

That's a start, and it doesn't take any great change in lifestyle.