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Sunday, 5 December 2021

A Fiddle Too Far

This is my parents’ brass carriage clock. It was a touch of luxury, new around nineteen seventy. I seem to remember it ticking in their bedroom, but there it is later on my dad’s mantelpiece around fifteen years ago, just before we sold his bungalow. That picture could be a whole blog post in itself.

On the back it gives the maker’s name as St. James of London. A few clean and shiny ones otherwise the same are for sale for £300 or £400 on ebay, although around £100 seems more the going rate. That is when they are working. This isn’t.

It worked until recently. I assiduously wound it up every Sunday morning, and it kept good time until a few months ago when it began to stop mid-week. A little nudge would start it going again, but gradually became more and more ineffective until it stopped completely.

Could the cause be a simple lack of lubrication? I bought this clockmakers precision oiling tool. 


Four screws under the base of the clock secure the case. I undid them, lifted it off and applied tiny drops of oil to the centres of the large and small cog wheels visible here above and below the hairspring. It worked. The clock started up and ran well for a few minutes.
 

Just before putting it back in its case, I thought it might better disperse the oil around the mechanism if I wiggled the slow-fast lever. Idiot! The hairspring broke. One bit of wiggling and fiddling too far. It doesn’t go at all now.

It would cost at least its value to have it repaired, not really worth it. It has little sentimental value because I was no longer at home when my parents bought it (I wouldn’t have fiddled in the first place if it had). Should I label it “not working” and put it in a charity sack, or just send it to scrap metal recycling?

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

New Month Old Post: Dill in Mustard Sauce?

(first posted 12th January 2017)

Dill

“But dill is a herb!” Mrs. D. gave me that withering look she normally reserves for her ageing mother. 

 I still thought I was right.

“They’re little fish - dill in mustard sauce.”

“It’s a herb! You wouldn’t get dill in mustard sauce. That would be like having basil in Worcester sauce or parsley in pineapple marinade.”

I sighed. “There was a tin last year in the Christmas hamper your mother gets from the pension company: a tin of dill in mustard sauce. They were little fish. Your mother gave it to us and they were really nice.”

“Sure it wasn’t sild?”

“It was definitely dill. As in a shoal of dill.”

There was nothing in the dictionary about dill as fish, only as Anethum graveolens, a European, pungent, aromatic, umbelliferous, annual, yellow-flowered herb of the celery family Apiaceae, used in flavouring pickles or to relieve excess wind, although in Australia and New Zealand it colloquially means a fool. Mrs. D. said that’s what I was being - or doing. I said we needed a better dictionary.

At Christmas, I can usually guess what’s in presents before I open them, but this one had me puzzled. It was too thin for a dictionary and the wrong shape for DVDs. I unwrapped it still wondering. 

It was a tin of John West herring fillets in mustard and dill sauce.

Dill in Mustard Sauce

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Iceland 15: Postscript

links to: introduction and index - previous part

In transcribing this saga, I began to wonder what had happened to the people and places I encountered.

Iceland now seems increasingly geared up to the kind of tourist activities that extract money from punters at every twist and turn, such as sitting in warm pools sipping cocktails. And did I mention the penis museum? Staving off boredom! How I detest myself when I do these things. Wild walkers just don’t generate the same revenue.

Despite several distinctive names, there seems to be very little online about the others on the walk. I came across technical publications that may have been written by the landscape architect, one of the chemists and the medical researcher, although they could have been by others of the same name. The index of marriages on Ancestry suggests that the couple on the walk did not stay together, and that they may have married other spouses. That’s about it.

There is, however, quite a bit about the route and the tour organisers.

The Route

In 1977, the walks offered something of the wilderness experience Dick Phillips must have enjoyed in surveying the routes in the nineteen-sixties. Today, there are many more organised trips with motor support. One would have to go to the isolated interior, or to Greenland, to find places where other walkers are rare, where you might be the first to venture as the snow melts. Even so, satnavs and satellite phones remove much of the isolation. 

Julia Bradbury’s hour-long television programme about her 2010 Icelandic adventure (https://youtu.be/YGgWse3iQLA) illustrates the difference. Caught in bad visibility in the mountains, she calls in a support vehicle to take her to the next hut, almost a stately home, and there takes a shower. Neither would not have been possible in 1977.

Most of the huts we used have now been replaced by buildings we would then have considered outrageously luxurious. They have wardens, bunks, showers, chemical toilets, cooking facilities, cutlery and crockery, and are reachable by ordinary car. There are also more of them, although not at Strutslaug where Dick Phillips’ remote hut was swept away by an avalanche around 1999. 

Pictures of the Skaelingar hut (the one with the rock pillars) belonging to the Útivist Icelandic travel association also show the difference (https://www.utivist.is/english/skaelingar-hut). Below, their new hut is in the background, with one of the two we used in the foreground. The other we used has gone, with the new hut, car park and toilet shed in its place. Things can’t possibly be the same without a shovel outside the door.   

Skaelingar, Dick Phillips Tour, Iceland 1977
Skaelingar now and then. The hut in the foreground on the left is one of the original two. The hut, car park and toilet shed behind it are new. The picture on the right shows how it was.

The Tour Organisers

Dick Phillips’ tours ran until around 2012, for fifty-two years in total. I would guess that more than ten thousand people went on one kind of tour or another over these years. In the winter Dick lived at Nenthead near Alston in Cumbria, where, known to all as ‘Icelandic Dick’, he was active in the local community. Among his many roles he was a Councillor, newsletter editor and helped with the Nenthead mines group. He was invariably to be seen riding a bicycle in one of his distinctive Icelandic jumpers, and was buried in one in 2019. He was in his mid-eighties. There are several tributes on the internet (e.g. here and here).

Paul Stevens, the walk leader, was invited into partnership soon after our trip, and remained with the business, leading walks until it ended. A search reveals that, around 2005, he talked about his experiences for the BBC Radio Stoke ‘Inside Lives’ project. A brief synopsis is archived but the link to the recording no longer seems to work (http://www.bbc.co.uk/stoke/insidelives/2004/02/paul_stevens.shtml). 

Paul Stevens, Fljotsdalur, Iceland

Paul and wife Judi are still involved with the Fljótsdalur hostel, which he talks about in a four-minute facebook video (https://fb.watch/8RA4SOHyWO/ - you may need to switch on the sound using the icon in the bottom right of the picture; the spelling in the subtitles is atrocious). It is good to see him looking well. Is that what a lifetime of walking with a heavy rucksack does for you? What a book he could write! The hostel facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/FljotsdalHostel/

I bet they still have our real names in the visitors’ books. I am half-expecting a letter from their solicitor.

Finally, an elderly Dick Phillips appears at the beginning and end of this fifteen-minute video, not in any way the scary perfectionist I perceived in 1977. The scariness was my own inadequacy. 

The main part of the video is about extreme mountain biking in Iceland, and worth watching if you have fifteen minutes. That really is scary. 

Dick Phillips, Alston, Cumbria
Horace and the Rough Stuff Fellowship: click image to play video

(The video URL if the link doesn't work is: https://vimeo.com/98904694?fbclid=IwAR0yW2nRSTfiYKJq7rbYlevwi5j9ISS9SSbCOtrvk4wnXYWEmChrUFA3JRA)

The end.
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Iceland 14: Reykjavik and Home

links to: introduction and index - previous day - postscript

Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th September 1977 

Dick Phillips, Fljotsdalur, Iceland, 1977
Dick Phillips (in Icelandic jumper) oversees loading the Land Rover at Fljotsdalur

We return the eighty miles from Fljótsdalur to Reykjavik by road. Some travel in the Land Rover but most of us go by service bus. I really should have recorded observations of everyday Icelandic life.

We sit about Reykjavik for the rest of the day, and, to avoid the expensive restaurants, go to the Salvation Army for an evening meal. I must have since paid for it several times because I always put money in their collection tins.

We exchange names and addresses. The little community of walkers and hut dwellers, the cliques, the jokes, the nascent friendships, comes to an end. Other than for Neville, I never see any of them again. I wonder what became of them. 

The next day we are up early to get to Keflavik for the 08.10 flight. Everyone disposes of their króna (devalued since we arrived) in the duty-free shop.  

On the plane I have a window seat and spend all the time looking out at the Icelandic coast, the ice caps, the clouds and later the Scottish mountains. Magnificent! This not being my first flight, I allow myself a few photographs. 

         Iceland from the air     Scotland north of Glasgow (possibly Loch Eil)

Glasgow Airport

At Glasgow, Neville’s car is damp and won’t start. We eventually get it going and then it really is back to reality. After two weeks without any news from the outside world, the radio tells us of threatened strikes and power cuts, industrial disputes, economic problems, etc., etc., etc. They should send the lot of them on compulsory Icelandic walking holidays to get things in perspective. They should send all present day politicians too, minus technology of course.  

On the trek, I hardly saw Neville at all. When I was fast, he was slow, and when I was slow, he was fast. I did, however, spend a lot of time with Gavin, so much so that some of the others thought I had come with him. I was constantly amused by his endless stream of inoffensive humour. On returning to England, I found that one of my colour slides had inadvertently caught him having a pee. I labelled it “Icelandic Relief” and posted it to him without any indication of who it was from. In due course a couple of pictures of me came back through the letterbox. 

I dearly would have liked to have gone to Iceland again, but people, jobs and circumstances never came together right. Neville did return twenty months later, in the May, on the North-West Fjords tour led by both Dick Phillips and Paul. He sent me a postcard saying that the temperature was minus fifteen degrees (Fahrenheit, I assume, which would be -26oC, but does it matter?). 

There ends the Iceland journal, but in putting it here I started wondering about things and googling, which means a postscript...


(link to postscript)
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Contrails

A few days ago, Tom Stephenson posted an early morning view from his window. Here is ours.

We are close to the border between West and South Yorkshire, beneath transatlantic flights to and from Europe and further afield. For many months our skies have been reasonably clear but this week the U.S.A. removed covid travel restrictions.

Here is our view this morning. Each flight emits several hundred tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Bouncing Balls

I have unhealthy obsession: Bouncing Balls.

Sorry, it is not what you might imagine, it’s a computer game. You fire coloured balls from a gun. When you place three or more of the same together, they explode and disappear. 

Bouncing Balls Level 6

In the screenshot shot the yellow ball from the gun will bounce off the right hand wall to hit and destroy the group of yellow balls at the top. Actually, a better move would be to take out the four yellow balls near the top on the left. This would leave a large group hanging without support, so they would fall and be destroyed too.

As you play, the balls move slowly downwards. To win, you have to destroy them all before they reach the bottom. You then progress to the next level which has more colours and less time.

Here is another screenshot: the leaderboard on the Novel Games site. I’m fourth. Fourth in the world! Impressed? If it were lawn tennis, I could be Emma Raducanu. 

Thankfully, I’ve never been bothered by the all-consuming games that get talked about: Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite, etc. It’s the mindless ones that get me. Hours have gone on Pacman, Freecell and Minesweeper.

I first fell in 1983 while writing educational software in a university. I went in one Sunday to sort out a problem, which, like a lot of programming problems, turned out to have sorted itself out in my head without thinking, so it only took ten minutes. As there was no one else around, I switched on the Apple IIe and began playing Arcadians, a space invaders game. The ‘just-one-more-go’ syndrome had me still there at ten at night. I’d got pretty good by then.

Bouncing Balls is an unusual game for someone with my colour vision to play. At first, the red balls looked nearly the same as the green, but I gradually learned to distinguish them well enough to get to Level 9 when an orange ball is introduced. This, to me, truly is indistinguishable from the green one.

At Level 8 I cannot distinguish a difference between the green and orange balls indicated on the left. The protanopia filter makes the green darker and alters some of the other colours too.

The way round it was to use the Windows 10 colour filter for red-green protanopia (Settings – Ease of access – Color filters), which makes the green look darker and allows me to get to Level 12 before it becomes too fast. 

But, my score on the leaderboard is way beyond this at Level 22. How?

I got a new computer. It is more powerful than the old one and runs Bouncing Balls so fast I can’t get past Level 8. Can it really be that the power of the computer affects the speed of the game? Yes, it seems. On an even older tablet the game runs even more slowly. Most unfair.

I remembered there is a Windows 10 system option that restricts the power of the processor*. The new computer does not have it but it is there on the old one. Does Bouncing Balls run more slowly under reduced processor power on the old computer? Yes it does.

There you have it. As you go up through the game level by level, you reduce the power to 50%, then 40%, then 30%, and so on, down to 0%. That’s how you get a score of 414,270 at Level 22.

Just a word of warning. Remember to reset it back to 100% before you turn the computer off, otherwise you might have to wait an hour for it to start up again.

I doubt I’ll be fourth for long when other players read this, assuming Novel Games don’t remove me first. 

As for Emma Raducanu, my wife’s nephew grew up in Bromley where, at the tennis club, he was asked to play against a young girl three years his junior. You can guess the outcome. I only hope she doesn’t become addicted to Bouncing Balls. She would be top of the leaderboard in next to no time  – without cheating. 


*See: Settings – System – Power & Sleep – Additional power settings – Change plan settings – Change advanced power settings – Processor power management – reduce % as needed. Leave the window open so you can get back easily to change it, and don't forget to put it back to 100%. It looks like this:

Monday, 8 November 2021

Iceland 13: A Last Walk

links to: introduction and index - previous day - next day

Monday 5th September 1977

Our last day at the Fljotsdalur hostel is a free one. I suppose the tour needs spare days in case of problems or delays. It wouldn’t do to miss the flight home. 

Debbie, Dennis and Ed decide to stay nearby while the rest of us head north up the mountain towards the small Tindfjallajökull glacier. It is a long way, possibly ten miles there and ten back, but at least today we can walk without rucksacks.

Dick Phillips tour, Fljotsdalur, Iceland, 1977

Walking uphill usually makes you too warm, but today the icy wind blows straight though the sleeves of my woolly jumper almost putting my arms out of action. Wool is very effective at keeping you warm under a cagoule, but my cagoule is in Mike’s daysack and he has shot off ahead. I get colder and colder, and it begins to feel quite serious. Just in time, we reach a mountain chalet, which, like all the huts, is unlocked. It provides shelter to eat our sandwiches. I resolve never again to allow anyone else to carry my food or equipment unless I trust them absolutely to stay nearby, and never to get too far away from anyone else whose things I am carrying, a resolution I have kept ever since. It is basic mountaincraft.

Dick Phillips tour, Fljotsdalur, Iceland, 1977

Dick Phillips tour, Fljotsdalur, Iceland, 1977

Despite being reunited with cagoule, I am not keen to go much further. After a while I turn back along with Neville, James and Tony. The others, the four bridge school G.T. boys and Gavin, who they make an honorary member, do reach the glacier and are late back for tea. Some of them are very fit indeed. They take part in International Mountain Marathons sponsored by the Karrimor outdoor equipment manufacturer. One might have expected such mountain supermen to have the sense not to go off ahead with someone else’s warm clothing.

On the way down, the view over the Markarfljótsaurar and out to sea, with the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) in the distance, is simply breathtaking.

Markarfljot, Dick Phillips tour, Iceland, 1977

There are around fifteen Vestmannaeyjar, all formed from undersea volcanic eruptions during the past 10,000 to 12,000 years: not at all long in geological terms. The most recent, Surtsey, is only ten years old, having formed during a four-year eruption that began in 1963. The largest, Heimaey, grew by 10% during 1973.

In the evening, Dick Phillips chairs a debriefing session (likes / dislikes / suggestions) and then insists on showing us a slide show of other parts of Iceland followed by a recorder recital played by him and Jenny. Exhausted, we struggle to keep awake.

Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.