Not going out

We’re not going out this weekend. “Too hot,” you say? Well, we tend to venture forth early to avoid the heat of the day, but that’s not the reason. “You have delicate and sensitive skin that you wish to protect from the ravages of the sun,” you ponder? Well, it is true that I was once approached to be the face of Nivea For Men*, but this is not the reason why either.

*Note: This is not actually true.

No. We are not going out today because on Thursday night, some small, sad youth smashed the driver’s side window of my car in order to steal my satellite navigation unit and my mobile phone. Only I don’t have a sat nav and I always carry my mobile phone with me. So instead he stole a pair of binoculars and a portable radio. Total value new, around £50. Total value to him? Probably less than the “four good blood samples and the two sharp fingerprints” he left behind (quote courtesy of the South Wales Police forensics officer).

All he left me was a mess. A small window shatters into several small windows worth of glass; the act of breaking triggers a biological response and each tiny crystal reproduces. And, I am assured by those who have also experienced the joy of a smashed car window, some of those crystals worm their way into the dark corners of the car only to emerge years later. The window is now double glazed with plastic and cardboard and so I can’t leave the car anywhere.

I count myself fortunate. No one of any consequence was injured (the young gentleman who did this deed is of no consequence). There are plenty of people in the world far worse off than me. So I find it easy not to be angry. In reflective moments, I even consider that the person who felt desperate enough to break in to my car probably has a drug or debt problem. But then I also consider that most people with problems do something constructive about them – and that choice of action is a far harder and more difficult thing to do than to hit a pane of glass with a hammer, fumble about in a car and come away with a large, bloody cut and two near worthless items.

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Big Cats

There are only two ways to shoot big cats – with a camera, or with a tranquilliser dart. And the latter is only okay if you are licensed and authorised to do so for the greater good of the animal. And authorisation cannot be paid for with a ticket.

Any other way is cowardly, pathetic and strongly suggests some inferiority disorder. It does not make you a ‘man’; it does not make you superior; it does not make you better and it does not compensate for your having a small penis. After all, any arse with a weapon can kill an animal, particularly if the animal isn’t shooting back – which they tend not to do. If you feel you have to prove yourself to society, at least fight the animal on even terms – fists and feet. See who really is ‘the best’.

Things that make you better as a person include giving the money you would normally pay to murder animals to an organisation that preserves them for the whole of humanity, and letting everyone know about it.

I thought we’d left this kind of behaviour behind us. Maybe the answer is to take one of the big game reserves in Africa, fill it full of ‘real hunting men and women’ (and please feel the dripping sarcasm I attach to that phrase), remove all the animals and let the hunters hunt each other. That would be more acceptable to most people and it would greatly reduce the problem we find happening at the moment. And no one would care what happened to them.

Fortunately, most people are better than the the few who feel they have to kill for fun just to prove some sad, outdated point.

The photos below were taken at Longleat; not ideal but in this day and age maybe one of the few places where they are still safe.

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Dust

As a bloke, I am expected to deny the existence of dust. It is a fiction, a construct created by ‘another gender’ to make us feel guilty.

Alas, as a sufferer of asthma, I am only too aware of the existence of dust as it is one of the things that can (almost literally) bring me to my knees. The irony is that to get rid of the dust that causes me problems, I have to disturb the dust and that act causes me problems. Even the best filtered vacuum cleaner throws out some dust. When I empty the filter chamber, I have to cover my mouth and nose. When I clean the filter, I have to do so outside and even then I will feel the effects and have to use my asthma pump.

Yesterday, after Rufus and I had taken the air on the hills above Pontardawe, I decided to risk all and clean the house. Despite taking my time, vacuuming a room at a time and being ultra careful when depositing the dust in the bin, I quickly felt the tightening of the chest and wheezing and within minutes, I was struggling to breathe and coughing. In all, I used the inhaler three times in the afternoon. The last time I felt like this was the first time I had a serious asthma attack as an adult in 2010.

House dust is dead skin, dust mite faeces and in my house, animal fur. If there is any damp in the house, it can also be formed from spores of mould that you may not even know is there. There is nothing to be done short of living in a smooth plastic bubble. So I resigned myself to a wheezy, coughy afternoon of rugby and dealt with it. It makes me miserable; it stops me from being able to relax but at least sitting quietly on the sofa didn’t disturb any more dust and slowly, far too slowly, my chest untightened until at around 7pm, with the aid of one more sniff of the inhaler, Rufus and I went for a second walk of the day. The fresh air was most welcome and we took it easy walking the streets around the house.

This morning, after a much better night, we went out again onto Cefn Bryn to take advantage of the morning sun. I suspect part of my chesty problem is a bug that is doing the rounds in work. Nevertheless, a call in to the doctor is on the cards next week.

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The ones that got away

We had a lie in this morning to allow the bad weather to clear, so it was a relatively late 10am when we left the car to walk through Cwm Ivy woods out towards Landimore. The sky was still grey and there was a threat of rain, as the shower we passed through get here proved. It was humid, too, and probably the most uncomfortable kind of weather to be walking in, too. But we both needed a long walk to stretch legs, bust some stress and breathe some fresh air.

I always have a camera with me and this time it was a small compact that I could hide away if the rain came. But it’s slow to start up and so I’m prone to miss fleeting snapshot opportunities with it. Today, I’d regret that.

First regret was not getting a photo of the grey squirrel that ran over an overhanging branch while Rufus watched, open-jawed. He was aware that there were loads more around, judging by the nose up, stand still attitude he adopted several times. But from my slightly higher viewpoint, I could see them hopping and scurrying around in the vegetation, occasionally darting up a tree.

Then, as I was concentrating on the squirrels, I failed to notice the cow by the side of the path. In my defence, so did Rufus. But I didn’t fail to spot the thick copper ring in his nose. Finally, just before I chose retreat, I noticed the thin metal wire of a fence between us and the bull.

We wandered on, both a little more wary of our surroundings. Although there were a lot of leaves on the ground, there was very little Autumn colour in the trees, which was disappointing. But I was in a black and white mood with the camera, so I didn’t miss too much.

The sea wall path is still closed because of damage following the storms earlier this year. So today, we took a different path across the marsh and heading off towards Landimore. It was very muddy, as I expected, and there were great pools of water from rough trenches cut into the marsh. Of course, Rufus managed to explore most of them.

On the way back, we took more notice of our surroundings. I wanted to try and get photos of the bull, particularly the copper ring, and the squirrels. I was hoping to get a photo of Rufus and a squirrel in the same shot. But the bull had gone and the squirrels were camera shy. But as we neared the little village of Cwm Ivy, I heard a commotion over in the fields on the right and I looked to see a buzzard chasing a heron low across the field, just above the heads of curious cows. I was so surprised that I didn’t even reach for the camera until they had both disappeared behind a tree. There was more commotions but I would be surprised if the buzzard got the better of the heron, as herons are big birds.

Any one of those sights would have made a great photos, one I could be proud of. I missed the lot. Time to give up the camera and pick up the crochet needles.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 9: Frustration on the mountain

The plan for today was to climb up onto Fan Hir and walk along the ridge above the Cerrig Duon valley. As I’ve mentioned before, I love ridge walks as they give you a sense of space and freedom. Both Rufus and I were rested after Tuesday’s trek, so we were ready to go. The weather forecast said rain coming in around midday but we had a few hours before we were due to get wet.

We parked up and set off, walking under the trees along the river. I keep expecting to see kingfishers along this stretch of the Tawe, but I guess the combination of me and Rufus put paid tot hat. Instead, we threaded our way between two fields full of sheep, with drystone walls either side, and up onto the hillside. The first part of this route is very steep. The height gain is fast but over relatively quickly and that’s why I like this. You climb about 300m in around 30 minutes and then the slope slackens and the rest of the walk can be enjoyed at leisure. I used this route a lot during my training for the trek and much prefer this route to Fan Brechieniog.

We trudged up, taking a lot more than 30 minutes to get the ascent out of the way. All around, the hilltops normally visible each had caps of low cloud on them. Suddenly, we popped over the last steep bit and ahead lay the path up on to Fan Hir. But Fan Hir was under more low cloud and as we walked further, so I felt the first faint sensations of drizzle on my face. Over to the west, the clouds were coming in quite quickly. We marched on but it was clear that we were going to get wet very soon. So reluctantly, I decided to turn around. It was frustrating as we’d done the hard bit and I was looking forward to the reward.

As I gave Rufus some water and a snack, I heard a faint rumbling, not of thunder thank goodness, but a number of wild horses galloping along the track. As I watched, two started fighting while the others looked on as if fascinated. Sheep also looked up to watch the spectacle. We set off back down the track, negotiating the steep slope which was now becoming slippery with the rain. Under the tress we had some shelter, and I let Rufus have a paddle while I took some photos. We were watched by a sheep dog in the field next tot eh river. We’ve come across him before and he is very friendly. As Rufus and the sheepdog exchanged sniffs, I checked to see if the farmer was watching and then gave our new fried one of Rufus’ snacks. The sheepdog took it away, placed it on the ground and then started to roll around next to it.

Back home, Rufus had a quick shower to remove the smell of a dead sheep he’d found, and then dried himself off on my lap. Having completed the hard part of the walk, we were both tired and we both dozed on the sofa.

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Spring-ing

It’s time for cleansing. The sun is out and it inspires change.

No, don’t worry. I haven’t gone all hippy on you (well, no more than usual). I just find that feeling the sun on my face, looking at a cloudless sky and being able to enjoy an early morning without having to wear 17 layers of fleeces triggers some sort of renewal hormone in my brain.

I was out first thing this morning with Rufus and his real owner (I merely rent Rufus, of course, so that I appear to have a friend).  We spent a lovely two hours on the River Tawe, strolling up and down in the warm sunshine, stopping when we felt like it and, of course, throwing lots of stones for Rufus. We were early enough that for much of the time we had the river to ourselves. In the distance, a walking group appeared in a convoy of cars and set off for who knows where. By the time we were back at the car, it was still only just after 11am.

When we got home, I intended to watch the first Grand Prix of the season. I’ve been a motor racing fan for years but have become disillusioned with Formula 1 recently. However, this season promised to be different, as there had been a significant change in the rules resulting in radically different cars. A significant change for me was the prominence of the energy recovery system and the importance it plays in the performance of the car. Inevitably, this technology will filter down to the consumer and that can only be a good thing.

Instead both Rufus and I fell asleep. Not a reflection on the race but on my lack of fitness and Rufus’ tendency to cover 50% more distance than I do on walks.

But once I had surfaced, I felt ready to get on with some Spring stuff. There are two large fir trees in the garden and I’ve been planning to trim them for a while now. They block the afternoon sun and the night sky. So I had been building up to cutting the tops off. I’ve been put off in the past as I tend to leave it too late and they become a nesting place for birds. It seemed like a good idea to do it today.

I managed to trim the first tree and three quarters of the second tree before, to my absolute horror, I spotted a small white egg drop to the floor. It was quickly followed by a second, and the frantic fluttering of a pigeon. There, in one of the branches I had just cut, were the remains of a nest. The eggs were broken, the pigeon panicked and I was gutted. I should have checked before starting off, but in my defence, the trees were a dense mass of thick branches and it was difficult to get to each one.

I stopped, all the enthusiasm gone and as I cleared up, I saw the pigeon circling before it landed on a nearby roof. I took a quick look out from the kitchen, as the clouds rolled in to spoil the evening, and the pigeon was in the remains of the tree. I can’t look any more.

It needed doing. But I should have done it earlier.

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Bored now

Following on from yesterday’s post, I’m making a real effort to rest up today but it’s very hard. I had to pop to the bank earlier, and I managed to pick up a couple of books in the local bargain store. My copy of ‘Outdoor Photography’ turned up as well, so there’s plenty of reading material to keep me going. But I want to be out in the sun.

I’ve just been out in the garden. Just looking, no gardening. And I was joined by the little bird that watched me digging up the spuds a few weeks ago. She was within touching distance again. She started of on the ground but jumped up into a branch to be on a level with me. She was eyeing up the lens of my camera and I half expected her to jump on it. It looks as if she’s a young robin; a very friendly one, and possibly a little too curious for her own good.

Then I spotted a speckled wood butterfly (I looked it up) resting in the sun on the hawthorn bush. So I managed to get a couple of photos of that too. All without moving more than a few yards. It’s the closest to resting I can manage.

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Kingfisher

Spoiler alert: No Kingfisher Photos!

I have always wanted to see a Kingfisher. They are beautiful, colourful birds and rarely seen as they are nervous, too. Recently, I was told of a place where I might be able to catch sight of one. Around the same time, a friend managed to spot one close to her home. I decided to try and get some photos. I even researched the kinds of camouflage professional bird photographers use. Common sense took over and I only had to imagine the reaction from walkers in the woods to seeing some bloke dressed like a sniper stalking through the undergrowth. After all, we live in a world where photographers are prevented from taking pictures of people and places on city streets.

So this morning, in lieu of my planned hill walk, I went for a quiet stroll in the woods, dressed like a normal person. And I was almost immediately rewarded with the sight of not one, but two Kingfishers perched on two different branches jutting out into the river. One was side on, and the upper blue plumage was bright in the sunlight. As my brain registered the second one, facing me and displaying the lower orange feathers more prominently, they spotted me and before I could blink, they’d disappeared off up the river.

I hadn’t even reached for my camera, which was still in the bag. Poor show on my part. They didn’t come back so I walked on with the intention of giving them time to return. It was lovely and warm in the woods and I managed to get some photos of the insects pollinating flowers all along the river. After 30 minutes or so I headed back, taking much more time to approach the riverbank, and making sure I was obscured by bushes as I did so.

Alas, the Kingfishers weren’t there. Like them, though, I’ll be back.

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&%$@@!%$ (&^%$@^*

Hark, another swear word. What’s going on?

I have mentioned my recurring knee issue in previous blogs.  I’ve been doing my very best to rest it between training strolls and apart from the swelling on the front below the kneecap, it’s been pain free and only mildly uncomfortable. But last night, I was on the exercise bike in the gym and with little warning I suddenly had that horrible feeling, as if my knee was about to lock. Accompanying it was pain – not excruciating, but enough to sound alarm bells.

I stopped cycling, of course, but the pain continued and did so for the rest of the night, despite ice packs and ibuprofen gel. And this morning it was still hurting enough to leave me worried. Ibuprofen helped, as did a tight bandage. But it was clear that there was something more than a week’s rest could fix.

I have 44 days of training left. The training plan calls for two 6hr hikes this weekend, including ascent and descent with back pack. In the following three weeks, I need to do another three 8 hour hikes plus increasing amounts of cardio-vascular training in the gym. By my estimate, I have a two week window to rest the knee and hope it gets better. Even then, there is no guarantee it won’t go again either during the final training or on the mountain itself. On my last trek 6 people had to be evacuated down the trail, two by helicopter. A couple of those were as a result of pre-existing conditions. It nearly cost all of us our chance of getting toe Everest Base Camp. I’m not going to do that.

I went straight to the doctor who confirmed what I already knew, that two weeks wasn’t nearly long enough to sort the problem out. I’m having an X-Ray done too, as there may be more to it than simply Housemaid’s Knee. As long as it has a name with multiple syllables that sounds vaguely heroic, I don’t care.

So, reluctantly, I have decided to postpone the Kilimanjaro trek. Postpone, not give up. I’ll be back next year.

My knee

You know this knee now. The purply red bits are the culprits. Grrr!

I feel gutted and frustrated. Part of the preparation was psychological. I still remember climbing Kala Patthar in Nepal – and that was ‘only’  5,545m. Kili adds another 450m on to that. I can’t risk my knee giving out at that late stage. More importantly, when the adrenaline runs out and we’re heading down, that is when the damage will happen and I’m planning on using my legs after Kili.

Watch this space. I’m guessing the next post will be about the experiences of trying to claim off my travel insurance.

 

Bl**dy typical

I have trekked to Everest Base Camp twice. I have Climbed Kala Patthar in Nepal at an altitude of 5.5km above sea level. I’ve scaled Ben Nevis twice. I’ve done Snowdon 8 times, including the Crib Goch ridge twice. I’ve done three other Munros, the Carneddau, several Wainwrights and most of the mountains in the Brecon Beacons. I’ve got to the top of Pen y Fan 44 times and Corn Du 35 times.

I’ve completed three Gower Gallops – over 30km each. During the preparation for the treks, I regularly walked 16km a day. In May I hiked 128km. I did 60km in one week with Rufus.

In all that time I haven’t really had any serious injury. For that I’m grateful.

But now I have Housemaid’s Knee! The following space is the space I give you to laugh.

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Housemaid’s Knee! The doctor stifled back a snigger as he asked whether I spent a lot of time on my knees. I have the sudden urge to get a feather duster. I may scrub the porch steps later this evening. As a bloke I refute the existence of dust but as a housemaid, I know dust exists. I am confused.

Below is a picture of a Housemaid’s Knee. You can see the swelling (it’s soft and watery to the touch) beneath and slightly to the left of the kneecap. It aches a little.

My knee

Housemaid’s Knee.