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When the Karateka doesn’t come to the Dojo…

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Note: Closed for comments due to spambot-activity

It’s still hot and sunny outside and for days I found excuses not to work on my rewrite. Yesterday, finally, some phrases popped into my brain, so I ran upstairs and wrote for three hours. It was utter drivel, but that doesn’t matter. At least I was writing again.

I only became aware of the time when I heard voices from the neighbours’ downstairs. Another door salesman? Here, at the affluent end of Tadley Brook, we are popular. Everybody from Jehova’s Witnesses to British Gas people pay us visits and it incenses me because I don’t like to be interrupted. After all, these people would not call at my husband’s office. I frowned and got up to slam the window shut and cut out the noise when I heard the word ‘karate’ mentioned. Leaning forward I spotted a shaven-headed fit-looking guy in a GKR Karate T-shirt making his way to our door. I got there before him and he made an appointment to talk to us later that evening.
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Greenland: Tickets arrived!

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

I’m all go! The tickets are here, and not only that—the Pentax WP10 replacement camera arrived yesterday. So, everything is in place and in just over two weeks, I’ll be on my way to Greenland. The ticket prices are staggering: I got the cheapest flights, but at nearly 200 quid, the ferry from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat cost more than a one-way flight from Copenhagen and more than twice as much as the flight from there back to Kangerlussuaq.

To celebrate being able to take decent pictures again, I’ve updated my archive on Flickr. Note that further updates may happen some time after my blog entries, or even my trip, as internet access will be shaky in places and I’m also taking an optical camera with me.

I’m Flickr-ing away…

Greenland: the heat is on

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

It is hot. Officially.

Iwas laughing when the weatherman issued a ‘heatwave warning’ on the second day thattemperatures climbed beyond thirty degrees, but in the last two days it has been as hot as I ever remembered from my childhood summers. As hot as in Bangkok. Perhaps hotter—yesterday was the hottest day in recorded history! (UK only.)

In this weather, thoughts turn to glaciers and icy seas.

That is just as well, because the week is nearly over and not just starting out (as I thought with my heat-addled brain) and it has been a week since I sent the money for the Greenland tickets.

Not a word in all this time. So I sent an email and got an auto-reply: my contact is away until August 8th, two days before departure. Thankfully, she at least remembered to turn the auto-reply on. I explained my lengthy booking and transfer details to whoever is left in the office and hope that they are not all on holiday.

Biting my nails in the meantime.

The email has just returned. Oh shit.

It’s OK, according to the website, she’s given me the wrong email address. From what I remember, organising a student expedition to Venezuela was relatively straightforward.

Next time, I’ll book a package holiday to Lanzarote!

My new Sharp Zaurus SL-C3200

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

My new Sharp Zaurus SL-C3200 has arrived.

At under 300g its swivel-screen clamshell hides a fully functional keyboard and tiny colour display, its sides are fringed with orifices: a USB port, SD card slot and a Cf slot. In fact, sitting on my palm is the tiniest fully functional micro-computer I have ever seen. It has a 416 Mhz processor, 128MB flash RAM and a 6 GB hard drive and it runs Linux kernel 2.4.20—of course fully configurable.

For me as a new owner, it’s a little bit daunting, but as I start it up, the screen fills with the usual PDA icons. Half of which I want to get rid of (not the applications, just the icons).

Never fear, the Zaurus arrived with the fattest manual I have ever seen and not fewer than 3 CDs—with audio presentations, web-files and PDFs—all in Japanese!

Stunningly, this amazing device is not officially supported by Sharp outside Japan, but there is a large user community and I have received a short German instruction booklet, which basically tells me how to tinker and what not to do. For the next few days I will trawl the internet for useful applications and the latest Linux fixes, trying to determine what is out of date and what isn’t.

Rewrite? What rewrite??

Greenland: nuts and bolts

Friday, July 14th, 2006

All set. I’m awaiting the final confirmation from UMIAQ so that I can try to book accommodation in Ilussiat, but if the hostel is full, I can rely on my tent—so long as the ground isn’t frozen solid!

I have also sent an email enquiry about diving. I mean: why not? It is probably too expensive (and then I will be relieved!) but if I didn’t ask I would regret it!

The biggest song-and-dance was booking insurance from They are by far the cheapest and most suitable local insurance company, and the only one to offer annual multitrip cover for two adults under 64 (travelling together or independently) for trip lengths of up to ninety days! Of course, if I ever have to make a claim, they may turn out to be shit. Their website certainly is. I filled out the online form about five times and never progressed past ‘waiting on form completion’, but the phone sales staff are very helpful. I gave the guy my card details, then emailed him the names etc—and he phoned me back. One day, I’m sure, we will achieve the seamless integration of online business and communication.

The budget as it stands today (I have no idea why there’s such a large space and an orphaned tag below):

SD card & reader

TravelSourceCost (£)
Flights & ferryUMIAQ621
BA (ebookers)103
GearDescriptionCost (£)
TentColeman E272
RucksackGlendale 50L45
BootsSan Marco Goretex20
JacketPeter storm/Millets24
Mat (4 season)Eurohike/Millets13
InsuranceSourceCost (£)
Annual coupleinsureandgo.com99

—That’s 1012 quid, or only twelve quid above budget! However, since the equipment should really be costed separately and the insurance premium covers John as well, I should still have enough for an occasional dorm bed and a bowl of lentils a day ;). It’s not, however, enough for diving and tobacco!

Greenland: Equipment Haul

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

It was a beautiful day for it, and it has to be done, so I caught a lift with my husband on his way to the weekly meeting at Reading University.

Looking in vain for the Army surplus shop supposedly on Friar Rd, I passed a bag store and—on a whim—walked in. Unexpectedly, they had a few backpacks on display and after some deliberation, I ended up with a 50l pack for 50 quid; that’s at least 1/3 off the usual price. And because it’s me, the shop owner only charged me � 45. Then I asked about that army store.

“Why, what do you need?” The owner asked.


“Come with me.”

We went to the neighbouring store room and he indicated a whole shelf with hiking boots lying in lose piles. Most of them were men’s, two were ladies’ and one was my size. I even liked the colour. I reckoned they weren’t waterproof high-tech jobs, but they would do for a short trip and 20 quid was a lot better than eighty or ninety in the outdoor store. After I’d taken them home, I discovered that they are Gortex hiking boots!

Then I went to Millet’s and bought their last navy rainjacket in my size in the sale.

Not at all bad 🙂

The Coleman Epsilon 2 Tent: A Preliminary Review

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Do you remember the old joke about the swing designed by a committee? It ends up with the swing dangling in the centre of a tree with the trunk suspended above it by scaffolding.

All the customer wanted was an old tire, tied to a branch with a piece of string.

You get the picture—the Coleman Epsilon 2 is a tent designed by a committee.
Coleman tent003.jpg
Yes, I am biassed. In my opinion, nothing stands up to the free-standing dome design. But I can accept that a more aerodynamic shape might be useful in cold conditions and that weight could be a consideration. The CE2 is about 400g lighter than my old Salewa Nevada (no longer manufactured).
Coleman tent011.jpg

However, it takes over a dozen pegs to secure. Free-standing it isn’t. Perhaps the manufacturers should not have stinged with a rigid central pole. The system of buckles which have to be tightened around the corners had me scratch my head.

Today is a beautiful July afternoon in Tadley, not a breeze stirs the air, and I took my time erecting the tent. It still took me a good while and I’m covered in nettlestings and spiderwebs after crawling through the bushes around the edges of our lawn to find suitable spots for putting the pegs. The skewed ropes indicate that I did not always succeed.

This is not a tent for camping on sanddunes or beaches, concrete patches or ice.

Saying that, the ventilation cannot be faulted.
Coleman tent015.jpgColeman tent017.jpg
I’ll have to see how chilly this gets when the wind blows. Sitting up inside almost inevitably means brushing against the outer sheet and again I will have to see how waterproof this thing is in a monsoon deluge or Scottish perma-drizzle. I may be a little unfair, but the Salewa Nevada is a hell of a tough act to follow.

Geenland: planning cont.

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

This was where I was at last Friday (quote from my contact at Arctic Umiaq Line):

‘hi denni how about this price dkk 6341 flight copenhaven-kangerlussuaq, boat Kangerlussuaq-Ilulissat on seat, return with flight Ilulissat-kangerlussuaq-copenhagen. best regards Inger’

Since then, I have sent three reminders in all that I need the bank details in order to transfer funds. I hope that’s not too pushy. I’m waiting on tenterhooks to get this booked so that I can still get a cheap SAS flight out of Heathrow and have enough time to make all the other arrangements.

With the rush on hostel beds, I have also ordered a tent which is on its way here. No sooner had I received confirmation of my order that an email from Kangerlussuaq Tourism Office arrived, offering me a dorm bed in another hostel! It would be just typical if I didn’t need a tent after all, but it is wise to bring one along in any case.

Lastly, I’m considering bringing my drysuit. Last year, a dive centre started operating in Ilulissat . There I could dive in the mouth of a glacier or drift over the bleached bones of leviathans in the ‘whale cemetery’. Hardier souls might consider ice diving. It’s not really PADI territory and bring-your-own drysuit is a must. Apart from the extra weight and considerable bulk—not to mention extra expense—I wonder if the thing still fits me after ten years!

Anyway, I can’t do much until I have reserved my tickets, so I’m awaiting Inger’s reply with bated breath…

UPDATE: The transfer has been made! My bank does not have facilities for making international transfers online, so I went through two soul-destroying loops on the automated phone system (the second return to where-I-started nearly caused me to rip the phone out of its socket and fling it at the wall with all my power), then called the online helpdesk with a completely off-topic request and got the sweetest lady to help me with considerable patience and a soothing voice.

The money should be there within two working days and I’m go!

One Morning in July…

Monday, July 10th, 2006

(Pics were taken with my little toy-spy camera)

They all gathered. Young and old, Cold War veterans and the new generation of peace protesters—even a contingent of Buddhist monks.


By the time I arrived at our friendly Neighbourhood Atomic Weapons Establishment—late after the previous night’s World Cup final—they were all gathered on a gravelly patch by the side of the road to the main gate. It looked like the blockade—if there had been one—was over. But the crowd was neither silent nor invisible. A woman sat in front of the police cordon, blowing a tuba. A young man accompanied her with a violin. The tiny orchestra was drowned out by the thumping beat from a DIY sound system: a heavy mix of drums and Bush sound bites.

AWEpic9.jpg AWEpic4.jpg

It took me a while to cross the road. Blockade or not, the traffic had slowed right down as commuters gawped at the protesters. AWE has been in the news recently and I think I saw a few new faces in the crowd.

A gentle drizzle fell. Nobody seemed to notice.

I wondered if any of the cops or other protesters felt as rough as I did.

Heavy container trucks rumbled past, carrying mounts of sand and earth into the base; the building work no longer clandestine.

I lit another cigarette and when it was finished stubbed it out on a pebble and put the stub back in the box. This isn’t Germany, but I did not want to give the cops an excuse to steam in and arrest me for littering. Not that they seemed about to. Everything was relaxed.


I day-dreamed and listened to the beat for a while. My reverie was interrupted by one of the police officers jogging past, boots crunching on the gravel. Half-a-dozen others followed him down a grassy path along the fence. I spotted two of the protesters down there, surrounded by their own private cordon of officers. Could it be…?

I walked over to the two official Legal Observers who were chatting to a group of people with their backs turned to us. “I think the cops are about to book someone,” I said. ” You better come.”

It really seemed to be happening. The two protesters had done nothing more than walk down the path, which is a public right of way. People walk their dogs there.


‘Three is a Crowd’
The Legal Observer was detained at the edge of the gravel. She waved over at her colleague and the two of them talked earnestly to the cops, soon joined by their own ‘evidence gathering officer’, as identified by her shoulder patches. Eventually, most of the cops came back, but not all of them. I the distance, I spotted the two protesters being led away. They were being arrested for walking down a public path.

The bustle resumed. A few people were getting ready to leave. I considered going as well; it was ten to ten and I might catch John before he left for work.


“Shall we go?” A guy nearby asked a friend. I did not catch his reply, but he buttoned up his rain jacket and walked across the pebbles to the road. I was about to follow when one of the cops grabbed him by the collar—and not gently.

A minor fraccas ensued.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “The guy just wanted to go home!”

A woman regarded me gravely: “Apparently we have to stay in this ‘prison’ until twelve o’ clock.”

Suddenly the atmosphere changed. The music stopped. People huddled together in small groups. Worried glances were exchanged.

Were we all under arrest?


At least now I had something to write about. I walked up to a patch of grass. Immediately, two of the officers drew close.

“Relax—I just want to sit!”

My hands were trembling when I took out my notebook.

As quickly as the tension had arisen, it was calmed down. While I was scribbling furiously, one of the senior officers made a speech: “…so if any of you want to leave the site, to go home, or go to the loo, that’s fine. But if you start a protest anywhere else—that’s two or more people—you are liable to be arrested…”

He talked on. He did not sound unreasonable: we were free to leave. But I was determined not to walk past one of his more excitable colleagues.

In the end, a few of the women got together. They had been at the peace camp all weekend and were tired after getting up early that morning. The cop nodded at us. “Ladies, if you like to leave, I’ll stop the traffic.”

That’s the police for you—all sweetness and light one minute, and the next…

Aldermaston Action (again)

Friday, July 7th, 2006

Things concerning our Friendly Neighborhood Atomic weapons Establishment are hotting up.

During a recent dinner at the Mansion House (rather than, say, a session in parliament), Prime-Minister-to-be Gordon Brown announced that he will definitely look into options to replace Trident. So now at least it’s official, even though some MPs seemed to be taken by surprise. I suppose those are the ones that snooze through Parliamentary Questions.

Even more recently, a 2005 report released by the MoD under the new Freedom of Information Act ‘fessed up that a terrorist strike on a nuclear arms convoy might have rather more serious consequences than they previously realised admitted. Routes of these convoys are (attempted to be) kept secret, but they are not exactly invisible. And guess where the things end up? Yep, it’s put our little village firmly onto the terrorist radar.

Time for another blockade. Damn—yet another early start on a Monday morning.
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