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November 2011 Archives

November 6, 2011

Another family weekend

I spent Friday at the Scottish Countryside Access Network event in Perth, a triennial event that happened to be timely for our looking at waymarking options for the Rob Roy Way long-distance walk. We also agreed to set up a management group for the route and it will have its inaugural meeting later this month, just after we return from Mexico via New York, so I've been hastily compiling agendas. And because of our impending trip it was great to enjoy some family company before we leave on Wednesday.

Sandy and Anna joined us that evening for dinner by arrangement, as did Amy (unexpectedly, her poor mother Helen having fallen ill). So we all had a lively and relaxed evening and I for one retired early to share a dreamless sleep with Amy.

Since the next day was that glorious cold crisp weather that can make November such a delight, I suggested we all walk to the Sheriffmuir Inn for lunch. It's a lovely walk with fine views and some very rough bits which suggest that not many people know the direct route from Landrick any more. I was off-duty camera-wise but delighted that Anna took a few. Here she captured us on the oak-lined path up from Dykedale. The red things in Keir's pockets are his slippers, essential lunch equipment:


And here's one I took on the borrowed iPhone of the lovely couple (soon to be three), relaxed in the autumn sunshine:


Not long after they returned to Edinburgh, we had a visit from Laochan, the handsome black labrador from our neighbours at the farmhouse, who were going out while firework noise was expected. Laochan apparently needed our company (or maybe our neighbours think that we need his?). Anyway, he seems quite correctly to regard Landrick as his second home. We were thrilled to have both Amy and Helen (by then somewhat recovered) here on Sunday, but maybe not as thrilled as Amy was to find Laochan. She really loves him:


November 8, 2011

Making snow chains size 10.5

It's nearly two years since snow chains entered my life, in January 2010. The size 10s I had bought for the Jaguar X-type were hard to fit first time around, which I put down to my inexperience. But second time around they were nearly impossible, so by November 2010 I had decided they were one size too small. Since they were by this time firmly and usefully in place, nothing happened until January when the 35-minute struggle to remove them at 4.30 am in heavy snow en route for the airport (admittedly after they had been frozen/rusted in place for two months) very nearly cost us our plane to Bangkok. We made the airport only after the flight had started to board, and our heart rates didn't return to normal until half an hour after take-off.

I was determined to avoid a repeat performance this winter. My supplier Snowchains Europroducts' offers a part-exchange scheme so I bought a pair of size 11s. It was deeply disappointing to find they were too loose, and the offchance of a chain flying off the wheel spells damage or even danger. After many phone calls and emailed photographs, they suggested the solution could be to shorten the perimeter chain to achieve what I now think of as size 10.5. Andrew of Snowchains made it sound easy: you open up a link, move the chain along, refit the chain and if it's a good fit simply close the link, cut off the surplus and the job is done. Here is the test fit, which had to be done on carpet so I could still return the chains if this all failed:


and here's a close up showing the dangling blue links:


This was great progress: the chains were now a doddle to fit and remove, and my friend Andrew at Snowchains was enthusiastic about my photos. He said they showed as good a fit as they achieve at their centre in Kent and almost made me feel I could apply for a job! However, I felt that our front tyres could do with an upgrade, and fearing that the new tyres might be slightly different in size from the worn ones that they would replace, I thought I should retest the chains before cutting any links. So this morning I took my carpet, chains and tools to J K Tyres of Springkerse so as to refit the chains after the new tyres were in place. On the driveway outside, the task was slightly harder than before, but only very slightly and not remotely like the nightmare of the size 10s. Each chain was on and off inside three minutes. They kindly helped by cutting through the spare links for me: this was hard enough to break one pair of their snips and took a lot of hammering and manual strength using a second, stronger pair. I was suitably grateful.

So now I have all-season Klebers on the front axle and, after only 22 months, size 10.5 chains that I can both fit and remove. Conclusions? Probably it won't snow at all this winter. Will I care? No: I shall take great delight in having spared everybody a snowy winter by finally having solved my chains problem. And, as with assembling flatpack furniture, I feel I have acquired some hard-won knowledge which may never, ever be useful to me again. It includes the unwelcome discovery that 225x45x17 may sound like a precise tyre measurement, but tyre sizes vary more than chains manufacturers realise!

November 27, 2011

Forgotten and unsung heroes: DMFF 25-6.11.11

We (Rucksack Readers) supported the Dundee Mountain Film Festival again this year. It's the UK's longest-running such event and next year (23-4.11.2012) will be its 30th. I enjoy being out of the office, meeting people and selling direct to real customers in the intervals, but I also greatly enjoy the lectures and movies that make up the main programme. The big names for 2011 were Mark Beaumont and Peter Habeler, neatly addressing both younger and older generations.

In contrast to the global fame of those two, a theme of forgotten and unsung heroes emerged. The 2002 Irish film which came second in the People's Choice vote was about Tom Crean (1877-1938) – the unfailingly cheerful hero of so many Antarctic expeditions with Scott and Shackleton. He retired to run a pub, the famous South Pole Inn of Anascaul, which I visited while working on our Dingle Way book. I bought Michael Smith's brilliant biography at his pub and reread it after seeing the author in this movie on Friday night.

I'd never heard of Alexander Kellas until his biographer, Ian R Mitchell, gave a lively lecture about him the next day, based on Prelude to Everest. In 1921 Kellas was the first to die, tragically young, on an Everest expedition. Born in Aberdeen and weather-hardened on Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms, he was the first ascender of several Himalayan peaks over 20,000 ft. In addition to his mountaineering records, he was a pioneer of high-altitude physiology. He had predicted that exceptionally acclimatised, fit humans would be able to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen. He even predicted correctly how much slower the final ascent rate would be than the climbing rate at sea level.

This was a perfect cue for my question to Peter Habeler, who gave a superbly illustrated lecture about his climbing life on Saturday evenin. "In 1978, when he and Messner became the first men to summit Everest without oxygen, did they actually know whether it was possible? Medical opinion at the time was divided, but did they know about Kellas's work?" His answer was emphatic: he had never heard of Kellas until Mitchell's lecture that very afternoon and he had been fascinated by this prescient prediction from 60 years ago. So kudos to DMFF for assembling such an interesting programme and finding contributions from which the great Peter Habeler learned something new!

November 28, 2011

Commission on School Reform and the media

Keir was live on Good Morning Scotland this morning: the interview (while still available) lasts for 3 minutes from 2 hrs 16 min to 2 hrs 19 min. Speaking as Chairman of the new Commission on School Reform, he explained its agenda to examine key aspects of Scottish schooling. The story is also carried by the Herald, Scotsman, Times, Telegraph and Daily Express and was on BBC Scotland TV news – only to be dislodged later by the impending arrival of two giant pandas: you can't deny that they are more photogenic. Anyway, here is Keir's short article in the Scotsman, and their news story.

OECD's recently released PISA international comparison reports that the world's most effective schools are in Shanghai – as measured by attainment in reading, maths and science. This alone should be enough to undermine lingering complacency. Keir conceded that international comparisons are never easy, and anyway don't tell the whole story. But the Commission is setting out to identify how Scotland can improve. Our schools need to help to sustain our fast-changing economy, and somebody needs to monitor how Curriculum for Excellence is working in practice.

About November 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in November 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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