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July 19th, 2014

09:10 pm: An unexpectedly active day
Having slept badly thanks to a combination of the heat and the heavy rain, I decide to go for an early morning swim. The pool was quiet with just a few people in swimming lanes — one of my favourite situations because being forced to keep pace with someone swimming crawl forces me to push myself harder than usual. I stopped off at the supermarket on the way home and used the opportunity to pick up my most recent batch of contact lenses from the optician, only to be caught a torrential downpour five minutes from home.

I met Dr S and F down at the Jolly Roger for lunch — a generous and rather tasty cheese and pickle sandwich for me while the others went for classic breakfast fare — before a walk along the river, across Grace Road playing field and back to the climbing centre for tea and one on Chef Paul's cakes. Having brought my kit — just in case opportunity presented itself — I blitzed up a couple of auto routes and stayed on once the others had left to work on some of the bouldering league problems.

I spent an hour pottering in the bouldering rooms, talking to a nice couple who'd asked me for betas on a few of the problems — fortunately ones I'd already sent! — and I talked them through the circuit board — which I was still able do despite not having practiced it since the start of the league. I successfully nailed the next couple of problems on my card — sadly only for single points — and finished with a couple more auto routes, leaving tired but happy.

On the way home, just at the point where Quay Hill joins The Quay and bends right into Commercial Road, the corner was blocked by a coach which had made the first part of the turn only to discover that it had very little clearance on the left to complete the manoeuvre. The driver, looking somewhat concerned, nursed it very carefully round with a series of controlled blips while his relief kept him up to date on his clearance, eventually getting the wheels round far enough that he was able to round without touching anything — even the prominent one-way sign next to the pub. It was such a great piece of driving the impromptu crowd that had formed waiting for the road to clear gave him a round of applause. I don't think I've ever seen anyone look quite so relieved in my life...

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July 18th, 2014

06:21 pm: The Girl With All The Gifts
Despite being a long-time fan of Mike Carey's comic work — Lucifer is one of my favourite series — I've not read any of his novels, so when I saw The Girl With All The Gifts on offer at the bookshop I decided to take the plunge.

Melanie doesn't think there's anything all that unusual about her life on the corridor. Every weekday Sergeant Parks orders two armed guards come into her cell to strap to a wheelchair and move her to the schoolroom ready for morning lessons where, every day, she hopes against hope that it will be Miss Justineau's day to teach the class. The weekend routine is slightly different. The children spend Saturdays locked in their cells listening to blaring classical music. Then on Sundays the soldiers return, move the children in the shower room where they untie one arm, feed them grubs, and then sluice them down with stinging chemicals.

Clearly there is nothing normal about Melanie's life. It's just that she lacks the experience to know that she's in a hellish military prison guarded by who have been deliberated trained to treat their charges as dangerous animals. She also takes a dangerously long time to realise that when her fellow pupils are taken off through the big metal door at the end of the corridor to help Dr Caldwell with her experiments, they don't come back.

When Melanie's turn to help forward the cause of science comes, a chance event saves her from Caroline Caldwell's scalpel. Together with Helen Justineau, Sergeant Parks, green private Kieran Gallagher, and the sociopathic Caldwell, Melanie finds herself travelling through a desolate post-apocalyptic England. As the journey unfolds and the group find themselves increasingly dependent on each other for survival, their relationships begin to change and grow — with Parks in particular forced to confront his previous view of Melanie as some sort of monster.

Obviously influenced by the Cosy Catastrophe novels of the likes of Wyndham, what makes Carey's take intriguing is his willingness to embrace the other by putting it at the core of the narrative. He also forces his characters to change and adapt in the face of the evidence of Melanie's humanity — or post-humanity — rather than allowing them to continue to treat her as a dangerous menace. The ending is also more optimistic than usual, offering the possibility of a new world rising from the ashes of the old, albeit at great cost to the failed species that is humanity 1.0.

Definitely recommended.

05:57 pm: A couple of falls
Enjoyable if somewhat sweltering afternoon of climbing. I made a second attempt at a really easy route that defeated me a a couple of weeks ago — with hindsight my failure was only really a matter of tiredness — as part of the warm-up before we shifted to doing some slightly more difficult stuff.

My favourite route of the afternoon was one that ran across the arch. I made a pretty decent attempt at it but misread the transition out of the roof section and took a fall which, thankfully, R managed to catch only picking up a minor graze in the process. After she seconded the first part of the route, we moved elsewhere and it was her turn to take a fall transitioning up an overhang. It was very nicely done and definitely the safest place on the route to fall — the section immediately above looked particularly unforgiving.


July 17th, 2014

09:58 pm: So you want to write a fugue?
In lieu of any actual content — the most exciting thing to happen today was a over-long conversation during which I attempted, without a great deal of success, to explain the basic concepts of humidity to someone — here's a visualisation of Glenn Gould's So You Want to Write a Fugue? that really shows just how clever the piece really is:


July 14th, 2014

09:49 pm: Maazel conducts Verdi
Following the death of Lorin Maazel — whose professional conducting career started in 1939 — a rather 80s recording the Verdi Requiem with starry line-up of solists:

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July 13th, 2014

10:15 am: Skempton's Lento
An interesting discovery via this morning's breakfast on R3: Howard Skempton's Lento. It's a very hard piece to describe: long phrases that seem to echo Wagner's Parsifal with such gradual development that it's sometimes hard to work out what's going on.

I think I like it.


July 12th, 2014

09:09 pm: The vagaries of a lazy Saturday
Early afternoon swim to avoid the rain that was forecast with a high likelihood but which never actually arrived.

Setting in for the afternoon with a book, I was partially distracted by my neighbour carrying out a complex operation involving a ladder and various ropes. When curiosity finally got the better of me, I discovered she was trying to install a wardrobe the various components of which were too large to get round the bend in the stairs. At least, unlike Richard MacDuff in Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, she discovered that her piece of furniture wouldn't fit before rather than after getting it firmly wedged halfway up the stairs.

After dechlorinating myself, I dashed off to the Rusty Bike to meet the Rs, V and his his son for supper. The evening was pretty gentle without the presence of the Ms — both of whom were busy elsewhere. With everyone either tired or facing a long journey home, we didn't stay out late and I got home at a distinctly civilised hour — no bad thing considering the week I've had...

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10:37 am: The Rhesus Chart
More from Charlie Stross, this time in the form of his fifth Laundry novel, The Rhesus Chart. This finds Bob Howard, civil servant, networks guy, and now necromancer, up against a threat that absolutely everyone knows can't possible exist: vampires.

While Bob is slowly trying to process the consequences of the events of The Fuller Memorandum, including his wife's anger at his decision expose a civilian friend to the eldritch world of the Laundry, a group of clever young quants called the Scrum have accidentally stumbled across a piece of arcane maths that has triggered extreme photosensitivity, strange hypnotic abilities, and a general craving for blood. Being children of the media age, the Scrum quickly realise that they've become vampires and place their usual work on hold, using agile methods to determine the exact parameters of their new condition.

Their actions do not go unnoticed. Working on an algorithm to identify cases of magic-induced dementia in the NHS database, Bob picks up a cluster of rapid onset K-syndrome in a cleaning firm in Docklands. Drilling down further he traces all the cases back to a particular bank and promptly pitches up on doorstep of the Scrum's new basement lair. Here he finds himself confronted with a nightmare situation: a nest of vampires headed up by Mhari Murphy, his toxic ex-girlfriend from the days of The Atrocity Archives. Fortunately Bob doesn't so much wield the stake as tie the vampires up in red tape, but as he does so he starts to wonder whether events are being manipulated by someone offstage.

The Rhesus Chart is a solid addition to the Laundry mythos and Stross has a lot of fun with the idea of the vampire in popular culture: the first page of the book starts with Mo debunking the idea of a creature being able to live on human blood; later, once Bob has uncovered the nest, he gets tasked with reading every pulp vampire novel in the hope of discovering something about their powers; and the Scrum follow a similar model, with the added advantage of being able to test each theory with a matching experiment. Needless to say Stross finds a clever way to integrate the idea of vampirism with his existing universe, even using it to expand the backstory of an existing and deeply sinister fixture of the Howard-O'Briens' everyday life.

The rehabilitation of Mhari Murphy is nicely handled too. Appearing as a minor and deeply disturbed character in The Atrocity Archives, Rhesus shows her initially as an accomplished manager and adept, not to say cunning, manipulator, and later as something of a tragic figure who has taken on something in ignorance that comes with a whole load of unpleasant and unforeseen consequences. Mhari also shows how far Bob has come from his first appearance, massively underestimating him based on her decade-old memories, until he points out that there is no way that his old self would have been sent in as point man to investigate a nest of baby vampires. And indeed by the end of the book it's very clear that he has become, step by step and incident by incident, fully post-human — and not necessarily in good way.

And the conclusion of the novel is shockingly terrible when it comes; and all the more so because Stross has Bob steps back from his duties of narrator and relates events in the dispassionate tone of the Laundry's official report on the unfolding situation, which just emphasises the awfulness of events and underscores how little we know of something of characters, having only ever seen them manifesting their office personas. It's a real spearpoint moment: although it has a certain inevitability, not least in terms of Bob's trajectory, that doesn't mean it doesn't pack a real emotional punch.

Highly recommended but definitely not to be read as a standalone novel: the story is peppered with obscure code names and casual references to earlier events and ongoing characters that you're simply expected to know. But that's OK: it's a good excuse to go back and read or re-read the preceding novels...

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July 11th, 2014

09:08 pm: Staying in, sorting out, climbing, and looking back
We'd originally planned to go away, but due to various complications including the need to visit the vet and see people off on trains, we decided to reschedule and enjoy a relatively sedate day in town instead.

I spent the morning attending to some much neglected domestic chores,including the vacuuming of the communal hallway — something which no-one else ever seems to feel the need to do, even though it looks so much better with the carpet clean and the dust swept up. I also picked up a new power supply for my Slug to replace the suspect one and, sure enough, as soon I hooked everything up, the system booted up and began fsck-ing itself — a most satisfactory result.

We then headed off to the quay for a solid afternoon of leading. We tried a couple of the new routes, including a long and extremely juggy 5, and some new routes in the 6a range. R suffered a moment of climber's block partway up something well within her normal range — she couldn't quite get a foot match to come out right, stopped to think about it and struggled to get back into the flow. I did a viciously route that contained some pretty brutal moves — both pumpy and reachy — and which also happened to feature a large volume, making the prospect of any sort of fall distinctly uninviting!

To round the day off, my parents sent my an intriguing bit of a family history my aunt had been researching. Although I was a little apprehensive about it, it was actually extremely interesting and worthwhile, not least because it's important to make a record of these things while the people involved are still alive.

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July 10th, 2014

10:37 pm: Hollywood night!
Dashed home from work in time to fit in a swim before tonight's quiz. I'd originally planned to get their for half-past, but I realised I wasn't going be changed in time and we put the time back to quarter-to. I arrived slightly early, found myself on my own, and sat around reading for a while. Eventually I got a text from R saying they'd been delayed by the need to clean up dog vomit — E the dog is recovering from surgery. Luckily, M arrived a few minutes later dressed up to the nines:

So many sequins...Collapse )

The others arrived a little later and we sorted out some food and settled down for the quiz. The nosh was, as ever, excellent. R had a huge hamburger and pulled pork with cheese in a brioche bun while C and I had the veggie garden burger — similar trimmings with a burger made from beans and peas and various other delicious bits and pieces — and we all helped to make a dent in the sweet potato fries.

Our performance in the quiz wasn't particularly spectacular — we came fourth out of a moderate-sized field — and I revealed an impressive ignorance of Hollywood — although I pulled my weight in the music round and was the only in the team to get The Eiger Sanction. Still, we all had a good time and it was well worth waiting an extra month for the rescheduled event.

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