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August 28th, 2016

05:00 pm: Deep Water Solo 2016: Male Semi-Finals
The male semi-finals featured some extremely strong climbers and the setters had managed to come up with some formidable hard problems to seperate them out. Even the first problems was pretty brutal, featuring a hand-jam early on:

Local hero Jacob Straw demonstrates the hand-jam...

The head wall featured a powerful compression move:

Tom Bunn demonstrates the compression move on the top section...

Followed by a dyno to the big blue volume for the finish.

Neil Gresham controls the swing on the last move after powering up the problem in less than a minute.

Nathan Phillips tops the first problem against a the picturesque backdrop that is Exeter riverside.

At this point, with the rain slackening, assistant judge Bingo decided to assess the mood in the audience:

Newberry and Frughniet were obviously immune to the rain — although as a good Cardiffian, you'd expect Rhos to have a high tolerance for precipitation; I remember being shocked, my first year there, by quite how much rainful the city got and quite how often it seemed to show up. Not, of course, that Exeter is any drier...

The second route found Mikey Cleverdon very much in his element. First there were a couple of the sort of powerful dynamic moves that he usually has for breakfast:

Then a nice middle section:

Followed by a convenient rest, which provided a perfect opportunity to work his home crowd up into frenzy:

The afternoon also featured some truly spectular costume choices on the parts of some of the competitors. This amazing, shimmery ensemble featured in yesterday's qualies and seems to have survived its dip in the River Exe:

While this competitor deserves nothing but greatest of respect, firstly for sticking the amazing dyno and secondly for eschewing the standard topless look of most of the entrants — as chosen by the climber on the left — in favour of a full-on fairy costume complete with wings!

The final problem in the men's semi-finals opened with a difficult dyno that caused more than a few of the competitors to drop straight into the drink.

Tom Bunn shows how to control the swing on the first move — effectively a swinging jump from the red smiley face to the blue jug with an intermediate step on the second orange volume. The black object on the bottom edge is a strategically placed bouldering mat intended to deflect climbers into the water, should they slip off the hold.

After sticking a big long pinch on the roof and getting the feet out, the next move went up to a sloper and then to a big round hold on a volume above the overhang. Subsequent moves required a heel-hook match followed by a move up to a particularly tiny crimp.

Local hero Rory Bascombe about to go for the tiny blue crimp at the top of the picture...

Rory roars his way up to a terrible sloper.

The next step involves going out right to the tiny crimp to finish rocking on to the right foot, followed by a delicate move up to a similarly bad crimp on the top of the volume. Then it's out right to match both hands on another bad sloper with the feet on the first blue hold above the overhang, and then a very hard pop for final little pocket to finish. The problem was so hard that none of the competitors managed to stick the last move — although two got close enough to touch the final hold.

Within seconds of the last competitors going through, the barge was swung round to face the wharf to allow the setters to strip the wall and reset it ready for the finals, giving the rest of us an hour and a half to wander round and amuse ourselves until the start of the finals.

03:00 pm: Deep Water Solo 2016: Female Semi-Finals
Second day of Exeter's third Deep Water Solo competition at the Quay, with some very hard problems quickly separating out six finalists in each category.

This gives a pretty decent impression of the wall and of the three different semi-final problems, with the difficulties increasing from left to right. The green routes were climbed by the U16 girls, the red by the U16 boys and by the women, with the men climbing on blue. The problems were graded very hard, extremely hard, and outright impossible by the setters, with even the strongest of competitors struggling and a very limited number of tops; indeed nobody manage to send the final route, although two of the men managed to touch the last hold.

The semi-final problems in all their glory. Note the umbrella on the far left, positioned to keep the rain off the finishing hold of the first problem.

With the morning taken up with the under sixteens, the open competition started with the women at around 12:30 and it quickly became apparent just how hard the problems were.

Rhoslyn Frughniet tops the first problem under the watchful eyes of the route setters...

The second problem featured an early dyno which threw a few of the competitors, a powerful move to a taijitu volume, with slopers on the head wall:

Eugenie Lee going up to some truly terrible slopers on the second problem.

The final move off the spiderweb hold called for careful balance and a big commit. Rhos did the move extremely dynamically:

Rhos Frughniet matches the final hold with a dyno

While Eugenia went more statically, also topping the route.

The weather by this point was rather wet, as can be seen from the water running off the front of the awning which, thankfully, extended several feet out in front of the wall keeping the climbers dry. Kudos to whoever decided to rig the tarpaulins up in advance — last year the women's semis had to be put on hold for an hour or two while a roof was rigged up to keep the rain off; I suspect the extremely cold and unpleasant conditions experienced by some of last years semi-finalists might explain why more than few of them chose not to enter this year.

Having arrived in bright sun, I'd managed to slip into a shadey spot which also turned out to be out of the rain, when it arrived in earnest.

Tom, on the cherry picker on the other side of the dock, was slightly more exposed than the the rest of us.

Fortunately the showers soon passed and the competition was not badly impacted thanks the careful deployment of an umbrella. Emma Twyford, one of the first to make it on the top section of the route, reported some problems with wet holds and the route setters sprung into action, drying them with chalk and scrubbling off the residue.

Emma was obviously pleased to have made it to the top!

Rhos also making it three for three in the semi-finals.

And with the women's finals decided, we moved straight into the men's semi-finals...

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09:43 am: On catching the sun...
Post-DWS SunburnLooks like my concerns about the strength of the sun yesterday morning were well grounded.

After hanging around, post-run, to watch the first part of the DWS qualifiers, I'd hoped the the wispy cloud might have been enough to keep the UV off — I hadn't planned on staying long so I hadn't applied a thick layer of sun block as I normally do when I'm out in short sleeves during the day — but getting ready to run this morning, I noticed some definite pink areas around my neck and on my shoulders where my top had left me exposed.

Fortunately it doesn't seem to be all that bad as these things go: reddening rather than full-on burns and only in a couple of places — I'm not sure why my upper arms have come through unscathed — but it's not exactly idea. But on the plus side, I now have concrete proof that my trusty tank top is UV-proof, otherwise all-over lobster coloured...


August 27th, 2016

01:11 pm: Thirty-fourth parkrun
A reasonably good finishing time of 20:05 this morning — not too shabby considering I'd spent yesterday afternoon thrashing routes at the climbing centre. The turnout was impressively high this morning — in the three hundreds for the first time — helped by the bank holiday crowds and the good weather. L was there with his parents — his dad did the 5K with him and we met up with his mum at the Quay at the end of the run.

Instead of going straight home, I stayed down and watched the women's Deep Water Solo qualifiers in the canal basin. The field was slightly smaller than last year and I ended up staying for the morning — during which I became more and more worried about sunburn — to cheer the competitors on.

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August 23rd, 2016

09:11 pm: Sollima's Lamentatio
This year's proms seasons has featured a couple of accompanied encores. First Sol Gabetta in Petris Vasks' Dolcissimo. Then Pekka Kuusisto singing a Finnish folk song, assisted by the entire Albert Hall audience. And yesterday, Narek Hakhnazaryan in Giovanni Sollima's strikingly effective Lamentatio:


August 22nd, 2016

08:51 pm: Pintscher and Mendelssohn and Shakespeare
Ah, um, well, not at all sure what to make of yesterday's prom combining bits and pieces of A Midsummer Night's Dream with Mendelssohn's incidental music for the same. My immediate suspcious is that, on radio at least, neither item did the other any favours; however I'm willing to believe it may have been different in hall.

On the plus side Matthias Pintscher's piece, Reflections on Narcissus for cello and orchestra which opened the concert, came off much better.


August 21st, 2016

06:44 pm: Nevernight
In a few spare moments of late, I've been making my way through Jay Kristoff's Nevernight. Set in a world with three suns, where darkness only ever falls for a short time every few years, it follows a Mia, a would-be assassin, as she tries to find a way to avenge her father's execution at the hands of the Itreyan Republic. With more than a few nods to China Mieville and Scott Lynch and JK Rowling, I enjoyed it enormously.

The book establishes itself with a slippery prologue which frames the narrative, promising us nothing but the unvarnished truth about a now-dead assassin. Obviously, gentlefriends, such promises are never, ever to be trusted, making me doubtful of every word our overhelp chronicler says. So, with our feet on the path and our frame placed just so, we now get an opening that intercuts the scene of a girl ridding herself of her virginity with that of an execution; the words and actions mirror each other but with precisely opposite meanings. It soon becomes clear that the protagonist in both is the same: Mia Corvere, once the daughter of an ranking soldier now reborn as an instrument of vengeance.

And just like that, with a couple of chapters and a fistful of footnotes, the scene is established. The city of Godsgrave, so called because it is built form the skeleton of a fallen titan, is positively Venetian with its canals and its gossip and intrigue and betrayals. But its state, the Republic of Itreya, and its officials are pure Roman: the ambitious consol who uses Mia's father's rebellion to move ever closer to declaring himself imperator; the venal priest who wishes to become a cardinal; and the soldier who takes Mia's father's place as justicus, the head of the elite Luminatii.

Just as a traitor deserves no mercy, so too should his family share his fate. Thus Mia's mother and baby brother are sent to the Philosopher's Stone, a notorious fortress of a prison island, while the youngest daughter is to be drowned one of Godsgrave's canals. But, with the help of a shadow spirit, the girl saves herself and takes her first steps towards becoming an assassin. Now, aged sixteen and with the murder of her father's executioner behind her, Mia Corvere's master dispatches her to a rough town on the edge of a fallen continent, there to offer up the teeth of her first victim to Maw, the Goddess of Night.

After a series of difficult and, it must be said, amusing trials, Mia hooks up with a boy called Tric, another would-be acolyte, and the pair head out in search of the Red Church and its training academy for elite assassins. The school, when they eventually find it, is something of a Hogwarts of murder: the teachers think nothing of dismembering or poisoning their students; the penalties for breaking curfew involve being tortured to the point of death by a sadistic magician; and even though a killer is stalking the temple, the staff don't seem all that concerned that a murderer is thinning out their cohort.

Although Kristoff wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, he frequently uses these to confound the reader's expectations. Thus, he'll set up what looks like a book-defining feud between a pair of classmates, only to have one of them turn up dead in the next scene. He sets up what seems like a great mentor for Mia — the leader of the Church's assassins also has the ability to command the shadows — only to keep the character offstage for much of the book.

The characters are a finely drawn bunch, with Mia the snarky, troubled heart of the book. Determined to do well, both to please her surrogate father and to improve her chances of revenge, she's occasionally too soft-hearted with her fellows to be as ruthless as she needs to be to survive — although, as with much of the rest of the book, there are a couple of fine moments where she defies expectations and instead does something extremely ruthless.

Tric is clearly in love with Mia from early on, but he's more clearsighted about the fact that their teachers expect them to compete against one another for a handful of top places come graduation. Ashlinn, cocky and funny and light-fingered, is good balance to the more sober Tric and, as becomes clear as the story unfolds, is also in love with Mia; she obviously means a lot of more of her flirty, comic banter than Mia chooses to realise. Carlotta, a former slave, is the closest to Mia's rival in the school's poisons class, and the two bond over their shared dislike of Jessamine — Mia's great rival who, having also lost her father in the same purge that occurred after Mia's father's rebelion, blames the Corvere family for her own situation.

Nevernight is extremely accomplished and far more than the sum of its influences. It's a fun, frequently funny read, that doesn't pull its punches — despite being YA the characters drink and smoke and have sex and murder people (and each other) as the plot demands it — and the action builds to a really rattling finale that is all the more satisfying for arriving in a slightly unexpected way.

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07:40 am: Hugo results 2016
Very pleased to see N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season winning best novel and Nnedi Okorafor's Binti taking the novella award. Both categories were strong and I'm pleased to see two of my favourites from last year doing well. It's not terribly surprising to see Naomi Kritzer — the only adequate work on the ballot — taking the short story award or to see the car crash that was the best related work category going to no award...


August 20th, 2016

05:39 pm: Proms Catchup
Despite not writing much about this year's proms, I've been assiduously making keeping up with the concerts on R3. Highlights over the last few weeks have included Huw Watkins' Cello Concerto written for his brother Paul and Tai Murray's premier of Malcolm Hayes' Violin Concerto.

The Sixteen's late night concert, mixing Bach motets with Arvo Pärt's Nunc Dimittis and Triodium was particularly good. The audience had an amazing, focused silence during the Pärt pieces which the BBC's engineers did a superb job of capturing, really adding to the spiritual quality of the broadcast.

The East-West Divan orchestra's prom really stands out a particular highlight. Not only did it feature the legendary Marta Argerich in Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 but the encore was a true delight: Argerich and Barenboim in Schubert's Rondo for two hands; two brilliant pianists for the price of one in a piece that almost outlasted the conerto that proceded it.

The second half was a series of orchestral interludes from Wagner starting with the overture to Tannhäuser, move through the Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey to the Funeral March from Götterdämmerung before ending with the astonishing counterpoint of the overture to Die Meistersinger. As an encore concert finished with the prelude to act III of Die Meistersinger and then, as a final surprise send off, a really constrast to the brooding Meistersinger prelude: a fast, exciting version of the prelude to the third act of Lohengrin.

I also very much enjoyed yesterday's concert performance of Janáček's The Makropulous Affair. Not a piece I know at all — despite one of my friends learning the part of Emilia Marty when we were at university — I though it was fascinating, especially the shift from the conversational form and constantly shifting music of the majority of the opera to its resolution in the last 10-15 minutes of the piece.

12:00 pm: Thirty-third parkrun
Tired this morning after thrashing it at the climbing wall yesterday and a little worried about the windy conditions, I backed off from my recent pace and finished in a respectable 20:29. Stopped off for tea afterwards and discovered that D&P feature in a recent Visit Devon video:

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