Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

I am very happy with myself as, on saturday, I managed to complete the 64 mile Cyclone. The last time I managed this was 6 years ago ( There were other momentus events happening in my life that year (, which probably explain why I have not found the time to replicate the feat since then.

My main change this year has been my training schedule; I knew that I was going to get there by cycling at the weekends — it’s not enough, and too irregular. So, instead, I have been using some cycle rollers that I bought ages ago but have not really just started to use. And what a difference they have made; I remember feeling tired after a 20 mile ride in April, so have got to 60 pretty quick. In fact, I managed to time close to my previous best, coming in at 4:57 (on the road) or 5:12 (elapsed) which makes just over 12mph.

It was a hard ride — I’ve been training mostly up and down the river, and the cyclone is pretty hill; I was starting to feel tired at 50 miles and, although I did keep the speed up for the ride in, I was reaching my limit. Having said that, this year, they have added a 90mile route as well, and I fancy trying it next year. I’m not totally convinced that my bike ( is right for it. It’s a little heavy, probably about 15kg with all the extra baggage I carry on it. But, then, I am also a little heavy with the extra baggage I am carrying, so perhaps it’s not an issue.


I think that I have missed the last few years of holiday posts. They are no doubt getting undoubtely getting increasingly in-appropriate as this blog completes it’s transition to an open lab-book. Still, I am stuck in an airport post-ICBO, so why not?

I have, to my knowledge, only been to Greece for work before, so I was not entirely sure what we were going to get, beyond the climate and food, which I figured was likely to be pretty similar to Turkey where we were two year before (actually, we could see the Turkish coast we had swam from). In this, I was correct. It’s reasonably hot. The ground is dry although there is no shortage of water (although, I didn’t know that Rhodes has almost no natural running water). The first week there was a very pleasant wind blowing, although I believe that this is unusual; it had gone by the second week.

Pefkos it a pretty small town and it is entirely tourist-driven; the accommodation is largely populated by the UK package tour operators, and it is rather “English breakfast”, but not offensively so. Our hotel backed onto the beach and, unlike Turkey, Greek beaches are not private owned; long may this last, although I have no doubt that somewhere right-wing economics are busy coming up with explanations as to why this is really a bad thing.

Rhodes itself is very beautiful, although we saw it largely by tour bus; while this avoids argument as to who is going to get stuck with the driving, the lack of control and the joyless, breathless, pillar-to-post excursion experience brings hassles of its own. Still, unlikely Turkey, the attempts to sell junk (Onyx in Turkey, Olive oil in Rhodes) to tourists was much less relentless. Likewise, the prices were reasonable, stated up-front on the menu and stuck to. Best things to see, if you are interested, were Rhodes town itself, and the butterfly valley, although this is not a major discovery. If you go to Rhodes, people will give you opinions on the 10 options pretty quick.

I believe that as a tourist town Pefkos is unusual on Rhodes in actually having Resturants at all, as most of the other towns have full-board hotels and there is no market. This seemed like a good thing, as hotel catering is rarely reliable. However, the resturant food was rather disappointing from a veggie perspective. While the Greeks seem curiously smug about their cuisine as they have discovered both the grill and the oven, their main dishes I find lack variety or composition, so I was not expecting much there. But, their mezze are great and even if they are largely replicated identically between resturants, so I expected to eat well.

The problem was that the mezze were too big; by the time you’d bought, say, some hummous, with a bit of bread, you already had half the food that you were ever going to eat. If I wanted to sample the variety they had on offer in one meal, I’d have to buy 5 dishes, then throw most of each away. I tried asking about this, but Greece (or tourist Greece) is not like Italy; the menu is a description of what you can choose from, not a starting point for negotiation. I didn’t starve, but it could have been so much better.

The best meal I got was from a buffet at the hotel, where I could pick what I wanted; oh, the irony. This at their themed “Greek night” — a pretty obscure theme for a Greek hotel, on a Greek island, in Greece, but they attacked it with gusto: they seemed genuinely disappointed that I didn’t drink the Ouzo (“it’s a spirit, with aniseed”, they explained); then, the Greek dancers, to the sounds of a bousouki player, and attempts to get us to join the knees up, after which the band switched between the top 10 bousouki standards, interspersed with the top 10 chart hits (Taylor Swift sounds better on bousouki than in the original though, perhaps, that is less surprising than it seems on first thoughts). It was all rather fun, even if haunted by the shade of Monty Python.

The backdrop to the holiday was the economic crisis; the Greeks voted no in the middle. It seemed a brave attempt to resist the bullying and hectoring; reform is needed, indeed, but it is in the international businesses who think that tax is for the little people, and with the self-appointed guardians of the economy who treat social justice and welfare as a luxury to be disposed of, as soon as the opportunity arises. Perhaps it seems unlikely, given that their leaders have already capitulated, but I hope that the Greek people can hold on to as many of these things as they can. Maybe, the Greeks can help lead the world back toward democracy and away from the current hegemony; they have a history in doing this, after all.

If they can keep their free beaches which they were kind enough to share with us on our holiday, and which I hope they will share with us again in future, that would be nice as well.

My first visit to Oslo was in 2006. That time, it was for work and we were some distance away from town. I remember the flight in gave a dramatic impression, and I remember sitting in the conference centre, looking over the hill side, breathing in the thick scent of pine watching the sun slowing crawl toward the horizon at about 11pm. I only got into town the once, on the last night, and saw little of it which I was disappointed about. My second visit to Norway was to Trondheim and I enjoyed that as well.

So I was looking forward to visiting Oslo again, for a few days, doing the tourist thing. But I am afraid that I have been disappointed again; this city has not really grabbed me. The architecture is impressive at points, but there is a random, thrown-together quality about the city overall; nothing to rival the magnificence that is Grainger Town in Newcastle. And some of the signature buildings are, again, just okay; the Opera House has a roof you can walk up, but that seems to be it. The night time is subdued to say the least, and the food is okay at best. The only stand out feature seems to be an extra-ordinary number of sculptures — mostly bronzes, and often not famous people. Lots of nudes in heroic poses; the number involving seals is also distinctly above the average.

Of the two best things I have seen are, first the Sculpture Park. Very classically laid out garden, but with some really very good sculpture, full of character and life. And seals. And second, the folk museum, which shows Norweigian life and buildings at different stages of history. I have to admit, though, that I was at a loss to see the difference, because over the last 4-500 years, this seems to basically have involved making robust, timber buildings on stilts. While the museum is good, I think, having less buildings, but better explained would improve it. When you get down to it, one wooden farmhouse looks very like another, especially when you can see it only from the outside.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though has been the accessibility for pushchairs. In Oslo, this is never an afterthought; they just have not thought about it at all. The tram doors slam on you if you take too long, which may happen if, say, you are struggling to get a heavy, unwieldy, pram-shaped object through a narrow door. My visit to the Opera House was limited to walking around the lobby, as walking up a sloping roof, with nothing but “slippery when wet” signs to break a clear run to the fjord is not my idea of fun. My visit to the National Gallery involved 20 steps to get in, to discover that the pushchairs are banned in the exhibition area; still, hey, you can visit the shop. Looking through the door of the National Museum (only 10 stairs up) and I could see a line of buggies next to the security guard. I didn’t even bother.

This blog has been alive now since Feb 2006. It started with a relatively uneven tone, as many blogs do, moving between the personal and the professional, the and the, erm, less trivial; the first posts were a mildly witty observation about an airport, a review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a discussion on semantic enrichment of literature which seems as true then as now.

I think that it has now reached a more even state — it’s generally moving in a more professional blog while, perhaps ironically, my profession has moved more toward blogging. It contains very little of my personal life for reasons explained earlier.

I would like to beg the indulgence of my readers, both of whom know this anyway, by using my blog to announce the birth of our son, Sean Maioli Lord on 7th Dec 2010. He was 3.42 kg at birth

That’s it. I have no intention of this becoming a mawkish, baby-related blog. I do have one post that I may or may not write on the biology of babies. Please feel to stop me if it goes on too much.

Elba was a lot of fun; it’s very biased toward beaches, but there are plenty of these, they are easy to get to and, generally, free. For my money, the best of these ones that we went to were Aquavivata (or something like that) and Sansone (next to each other — I swam to the latter) and Capo Bianco. Both of these are withing spitting distance of Portoferraio. which is the biggest town. It turns out that Capo Bianco is part of a marine reserve, which explains, with no fishing; this probably explains why the place was so rich with life that otherwise would have ended up on pasta. But, with a pebble beach, a slow sloping seabed still only 1 or 2m in depth some 50m from shore and with many rocks, and a headland it’s ideal for swimming and snorkelling.

As well as Elba, I got to Pianosa. This is an ex-penal colony, with no permanent residents. It’s a strange place, full of mystery and excellent snorkelling. It’s also full of history, occuring in two of my favorite books; first, Posthumous Agrippa was exiled and later killed here, as is told in I, Claudius. The exact site isn’t known, but the seem to have found his swimming pool. And, secondly, Pianosa is the setting for Catch-22, although it in reality, it’s too small to have contained the events; I didn’t manage to find out whether it was occupied during the war, but it didn’t have a airbase. The whole place is a marine reserve, and the snorkelling was the only place which beat Capo Bianco. Beautiful though Pianosa is, there is a fly in the ointment, which is the Zecce on the island; the place is infested with ticks, which means that you have a reasonable chance of coming home with a blood-sucking monstrosity attacked to any accessible capillary.

After Elba, I’ve come to Lake Garda. All the Italians are complaining that it’s caldissimo; of course, back in Newcastle, they all complain it’s not hot enough. Never satisfied with the weather; just like the British.

The last holiday that I went on produced a long stream of blog posts; this one, I suspect will result in only one or two, which reflects the different character of places. India is a place of conflicts, confusion and excitement; Elba, on the other hand, is a holiday resort, universal beautiful, relaxed; in short, wonderful for swimming, sitting on the beach and general relaxation, but not so wonderful for writing about on a blog.

I took the train from Rome to Piombino Maritima; as with other times, the Italian trains beat the British equivalent easily. While, in some ways, they are not quite as nice inside, they are plentiful, ontime and cheap; the 15 Euro I paid for a three hour journey would hardly get me past the platform in Britain. Piombino itself, appears to be a scenic chemical factory, while Piombino Martima is a working ferry terminus, which says it all.

Elba itself is much, much prettier; a small island, with a large mountain range in the middle. A lesser nation would have built towns around the edge, but, as this is Italy, there are also improbable towns cemented onto impossible slopes, with hair-pin roads snaking inbetween. At this time of the year, though, the focus is on the beaches; I’d love to attempt the 1000m walk to the highest peak, but in this climate, the water, sun-tan cream, and sun umbrella would just weigh me down too much. I think coming back in April for hills, plants and geology would be excellent, though.

Speaking of the beaches, well, there are many. Many of these are hopelessly over-crowded, but some are a little quieter, without motor boats. The swimming is, on the whole, excellent; I bought some flippers which I’m having great fun with; I can dive deeper and stay down far longer, whizzing along through the shoals of fish.

Marciana Marina, where we are staying, is lovely, with a long promenade, several sheltered harbour beachs, and a pebble beach at the end, open to the sea. There is a jazz festival on in the main square; I get the impression they have pretty regular events there, but we’ve lucked out here. The standard has been very high, covering big band, modern trios and a jazz harpist. I’ve enjoyed it all; the crooner with the big band sang standards with a Italian accent, which was strange, but good.

In the relaxation of a beach holiday, I’ve been thinking daft ideas, which I may write about later. One was language teaching related — it’s got a crazy acronym which is Progressive Inculcation of Language by Listening to Stories (PILLS). The second was a design for inflatible flippers, which would work in the water but would also be good for walking outside. And, finally, an idea for domesticated bats as a method for insect control.

Maybe, I’ll write about them. Or, maybe not.