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May 2, 2010

Mark Beaumont: the man who cycled the world

About 750 people crowded into the Albert Halls on Friday evening for Mark Beaumont's talk. Stirling was the first of the Scottish venues for his UK tour and he certainly got a terrific reception. The recent BBC TV series The man who cycled the Americas combined with his strong online presence, blogging, tweets and facebook, meant that it was completely sold out, with long queues for the book signings.

He is, of course, the guy who knocked 81 days off the official Guinness World Record for circumnavigation by bike in 2008. And in telling the story of his trip through the Americas, he not only covered the length of the Rockies and Andes, but also climbed McKinley/Denali and Aconcagua, the summits of North and South America. In addition, he carried all his own kit, including video cameras and sound kit, and self-filmed. He spoke about both trips, illustrated with stills and video clips, for 3 hours, with enthusiasm, energy and honesty. Most impressive of all, he spoke afresh, not from notes or a script.

Here he is signing books and engaging with his public: the queue after his talk ended at 10.30 would have taken another hour to clear, but he still made time to talk to some youngsters about his bike before he even started the signings:


We may live in an era of the cult of celebrity, but at 27 this young man has a wise head on young shoulders, and seemed unfazed by all the attention. I'm guessing that the reason he seems so grounded has to do with his mother Una, to whom he pays charming tribute (in his book as well as in his talks). She was clearly not only key to his support team, but she also home-educated Mark with his two sisters Heather and Hannah, until he went to Dundee High School. On his first trip, she also wrote his blog and parts of his book, which I've just started to read. I've alway thought that early years play an enormous role in building self-belief.

I met Una before the talk, when I went to buy Mark's book and also to donate two of our guidebooks. I knew that Mark had met our author Harry Kikstra. Harry has not only climbed Aconcagua, Denali and Everest (!), he has also written guidebooks for us, and he too is cycling the Americas from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. Unlike Mark, who cycled alone and under pressure, Harry is taking his time along with his lovely partner Ivana, in a sort of protracted pre-wedding "honeymoon". In this photo from Harry's website, taken in Guatemala, Harry's the guy in the middle:


Now it was at Nido de Condores (about 18,000ft on Aconcagua) back in 2003 that I had mentally redesigned the format of our guidebooks to suit high altitude, and later commissioned Harry to write three of our Rucksack Pocket Summits. So I took both Aconcagua and Denali along as a small tribute to give to Mark. I was delighted to find that the resourceful Una had long since researched what would be the best guidebook to help Mark on his Aconcagua climb, and sent him Harry's book to take along!


May 26, 2010

Garden Party dress code dilemma

An odd side-effect of Keir's late-onset acceptability to the Scottish educational establishment was the arrival last week of an invitation to the garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on 13 July. For years, of course, he dished these out to people at Clackmannanshire Council but would never have thought of taking one for himself. This one, however, is different: it is a personal invitation to him. And it includes me: and there lies the rub.

The last time I had such an invitation I was a teenager. I declined, not just because I was rebellious, but also because I had a prior commitment that I valued more: my mother never forgave me. This time, I'm rather tempted to accept, and am guessing that Keir is too. But am I prepared to conform to the dress code? Straightforward for men, the verbatim wording for "Ladies", complete with arcane punctuation and capitalisation reads thus:

Day Dress with Hat or Uniform (No medals). Trouser Suit may be worn.

I am struggling to disentangle what this means. I don't wear hats except at extreme altitude, while ski-ing or sailing. I doubt if my scarlet Paramo ski hat would complement an otherwise respectable summery outfit. Does the separate "Trouser Suit" sentence mean that I can dodge the hat by wearing Trouser Suit instead? Or does it merely mean that you may wear a Trouser Suit instead of Day Dress, or even as well, if it's cold? (And could I wear my medals if wearing Trouser Suit instead of Day Dress, or indeed both?)

I searched for fashion advice from Google: my search for "trouser suit hat" returned this wonderful eBay item as top hit. Would Her Majesty find this acceptable?


Let's try some analysis of the text. "No medals" appears to qualify "Uniform" but the "or" after Hat provides limited grounds for hope. "Day Dress with Uniform" is therefore OK, isn't it, or is that only if the uniform in question includes a hat? Or did they mean either "Day Dress with Hat" or "Uniform (No medals)"? Could somebody please introduce conjunctions, and perhaps commas, into these abstruse instructions? Do they, like the Building the Curriculum series, need to be rewritten in clearer language?

A later sentence states that "National Dress may be worn" (apparently by either gender), but doesn't say which nation. This makes it tempting to find some deeply unsuitable national dress (with or without headgear) thus dodging the hat problem? Or a fascinator??

Gentlemen are clearly not expected to wear hats. Considering that ladies don't go bald, I don't understand why such discrimination is thought necessary. But in a 21st century invitation package that explains clearly about the two forms of ID required, no cameras or mobiles to be used, DVD order form (£16 to BCA Ltd: that must be a nice little earner) why can't they say what they mean about dress code?

About May 2010

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