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Day 75: York Again

Got up early (not early enough, as I ended up rushing and being late) and got on the train to York from Kings Langley. For reasons I won’t go into, I was feeling pretty awful today, and ended up comfort eating on the train. It was only a whispa bar, and I felt bad about doing it, but it is the first time I have in 2 months or so.


As penance, after I had got into York and dumped my stuff I set off into town for a walk. I wanted to take a walk around the city walls but for some completely unknown reason they were closed.

The closed walls

The closed walls

I found out later on that there’s ice on the wall. Not such a big problem for me but h well. Instead I walked into town. I got me a nice bagel at Filmore, a really nice restaurant that uses good local fresh ingredients.

High Petergate

High Petergate

The bagel was really tasty. My plan after that was to head into the minster for a trip up the tower. I’ve been meaning to do this for months. I had planned to take some pictures from the top to take with me when I moved to France, but it was always closed when I tried.

mmm bagel

mmm bagel

The trip up was different to how I remember and had become much more health and safety conscious. For example, there was a mesh at the top.


The climb up was surprisingly steep and long. Despite my mountain training, I was pretty out of breath, although it’s not that surprising given the last couple of weeks of excess. The view was very nice though.



The rest of the afternoon I spent in the shops and headed back to the music department pretty early. About 2 hours not-very-stressful exercise with a climb in the middle so not nothing.

Roof! Roof!

Roof! Roof!

I’m staying with my lovely friends whom I shall call HoneyPie and SweetyDarling. I’m still not feeling great but it’s nice to have friends to cheer me up. And port, and I also ate some more chocolates. I should stop before this gets worse. At least I didn’t go so far as to eat the ice cream I bought and hid in their fridge :)

I took loads more photos – here they are:

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Day 74: Me old dad

Woke up with a hangover today. It might have been the couple of whiskeys and pints I had with three close relatives, who I shall call Rugg Tomcat, Fotheringay Marsupial the 367th (his choice), and of course the Bike Fairy, whom you all know, and whom it was good to see after a couple of weeks away.

They had arrived earlier in the day and had taken MeOldDad out for a trip along the river, not far in fact from where I was at the Cutty Sark. We stayed at the Two Brewers in Chipperfield, a very nice pub and hotel with large beds and spacious rooms.

Happy birthday to Me Old Dad. I hope I look this good when I'm 88!

Happy birthday to Me Old Dad. I hope I look this good when I’m 88!

Today’s plan was just to give Me Old Dad, who turned 88 years old today, a lovely pub lunch and to say hello to the relatives.

It was a lovely time and so nice to see all the cousins, all of whom are in their 40s-50s and have children of their own. It was a delight to see all the second cousins, three of whom are about to head off to university. I almost didn’t recognise them, it had been so long.

As a present, we made a photo album of all the old photographs we had lying around. Look how skinny I was! (the one in the middle)

As a present, we made a photo album of all the old photographs we had lying around. Look how skinny I was! (the one in the middle)

I won’t lie, we had a huge meal, and cake, and although we were in a beautiful part of the countryside (Kings Langley) I decided not to go for a walk, for I had an enormous headache that didn’t quit until quite a bit later on.

Tomorrow I head back to York and will be doing something every day, I promise.

Day 73: The Cutty Sark

Today I travelled to London to meet up with a friend, who I shall name Pumblechook, and have a nice afternoon looking round the newly opened Cutty Sark museum in greenwich.

Child playing in unusual fountain-thing

Child playing in unusual fountain-thing

I got into London early and left all my stuff in Euston. The trip over to Greenwich took a surprising amount of time, however it was nice to pass through Canary Wharf, which was beautifully scenic.



The Sark, one of two Tea Clippers of that era left in the world (apparently) was encased in a glass covering. The ship was recently re-opened to the public and was beautifully done. We came in to a guide explaining how the fire had started, which I didn’t quite get.

Avast ye land lubbers etc.

Avast ye land lubbers etc.

The exhibits were great and it was pretty cool to be on board the ship. When I was young I used to be in the Sea scouts and loved sailing. I would have killed to sail on a big clipper like this or similar. Pumblechook had, and I was pretty impressed and jealous, but her tales of her time on board a sailing boat with a youth project were really great.

I'm the king of the world! Well, shoreditch.

I’m the king of the world! Well, shoreditch.

Two of my favourite exhibits were an interactive sailing simulation in which we had to sail a ship using the best of the wind currents from New York (I think), which we tried with a hand each on the tiller and failed miserably, but which I managed, although not very well, on my own second time round.

Little man climbing rigging - looks scary and fun :)

Little man climbing rigging – looks scary and fun :)

Another cool exhibit was a bench that simulated the swing of the ship on rough waters. It was pretty simple but also quite soporific – like a motorised see-saw. Also really cool was a display of figureheads, all of which were found at the bottom of the sea, broken off ships. Not all of them had a description but they were all interesting. It reminded me of being in china in the temple of 400 buddha statues, all with a different character and all staring at me in rows. Spooky but brilliant.

ooooh sarky

ooooh sarky

Best of all was being on deck and looking up at the intricate rigging, imagining what it would be like to be a at sea and climbing the rigging.

The Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum

After the Sark we head off down the road to the Royal Naval Maritime Museum. This was an absolutely brilliant place. Pumblechook took me first to the exhibit of the uniform that Nelson was wearing when he was shot. You can still see the bullet-wound, with dried up blood around the edges and also his bloody under-garments.

Cool space-age style boat

Cool space-age style boat

Other cool things there included an enormous set of gears for powering paddle-boats in operation so that you can see how it works (basically, some huge cogs, the biggest bicycle chain you’ve ever seen and a huge paddle wheels, as PC put it, “for crushing little boys” (paraphrase).

Also more figure heads, and a fun boat simulator which chucked us about and was good fun. Also a great wee kids exhibit with signal devices and code-sheets for trying out morse code, both with lights and radio-blips. LOL, ROFL, and other text-speak things proved a boon. Also, morse-coding in french was fun too (PC speaks amazing French, much better than me)

Finally there was another simulator which mimicked a life-guard boat full size, in which we had to navigate to a ship-wreck and find a body in the water. We failed but only just :)

mmm unusual breads, oil, balsamic vinegar and later meats and chips.

mmm unusual breads, oil, balsamic vinegar and later meats and chips.

After that we went on to have a lovely meal at a place in Bank whose name escapes me. A lovely time was had quoting shakespeare, eating nice food, drinking wine and getting funny looks in the street by singing two part carols as we walked, apart from an old couple at the station, who found it really sweet.

Not really an exercise based post today, but I had a really amazing time and thought I’d share. Took lots of pictures to :)

Cool wee thing I saw on the tube back to Euston

Cool wee thing I saw on the tube back to Euston

Day 72: Birmingham

It was sad to leave Bridgnorth but leave I had to. My plan initially was to meet a friend, who I shall call TheQueenOfChill, an electronic composer based at Birmingham with a predilection for trance, and MrSkins, a past piano pupil/composition pupil of mine, both studying at Birmingham.

In the end plans fell through a bit so I decided just to have a walk round the Birmingham city centre and the bull-ring shopping centre. It’s quite a daunting plae and I have to say, not very conducive to shopping really. I find those places claustrophobic and there were so many people that it made browsing and buying things uncomfortable and long.

I did however have my first Yo Sushi for lunch, partly because I love japanese food, and partly to make LuckyLadyBird jealous. I also visited Forbidden Planet and Nostalgia Comics. I had thought to buy the second in the Walking Dead series, but changed my mind at the last minute.


Apart from that i generally milled. Not really exercise today but nice. In the evening I met up with my Aunt and Uncle, with whom I was staying, and went to a concert of the New Music Ensemble and BEER in the new Bramall hall. I had not visited B’ham Uni’s campus before. It’s pretty spectactular, and the new hall is beautiful, with some great accoustics.

MrSkins met me in the cue for tickets. The concert was very good, with particular highlights being Michael Zev Gordon’s “Ein Morgenblatt”, a soft, beautiful piece based on material from a Strauss waltz (I’m very interested to know which one – very unusual choice for material) and Berio’s Folk Songs for seven instruments.


BEER, which included TheQueenOfChill, was an interesting second half, plagued by technical problems unfortunately, but it was interesting, and most particularly I liked that they displayed the code being executed by each member in live music program Supercollider.

I met QOC after the concert and had a nice chat. I only knew her from twitter before really so it was nice to put a status update to a face, as it were.

The A & U weren’t that impressed with the concert, although they enjoyed the first half. MrSkins enjoyed aspects of both I think.

Days 63-66: York Again!

Sorry everyone, I’ve not found it easy to update the blog, or indeed to exercise, so far since I’ve been in York.

I have had an amazing time though. I visited the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on day 63 to see a friend’s premiere as part of the Professional Composers’ Developmental Scheme, something that I was involved with a couple of years ago, writing for the dutch group Nieuw Ensemble. The concert went really well and I have a good catch up with my friend. In general sine I have been back I’ve also had the luxury of being around musicians and talking about musical things which has been great.

On day 64 I had a supervisor meeting and lots of coffee and lunch etc. with friends again. My supervisor is very sanguine about the length of time it’s taking me to finish the orchestral piece and has advised me not to rush it. It apparantly doesn’t make too much difference if I spend a couple more months than expected on it, and a lot of his students have all submitted at the same time, which means he could do with more time. No problem there. I don’t want it to drag out myself, but equally it would be nice to free myself up a bit and spend some time over detail without always feeling that I’m getting nowhere fast.

On day 65 I got a much needed haircut and spent some time with some of my sillier and lovelier friends, crashing a Gilbert and Sullivan Pirates of Penzance rehearsal. It’s fun to just have a bit of a sing sometimes and I did. Drinks were also had and much hilarity ensued.

Day 66 was the day of the wedding, which was absolutely brilliant and involved spending time with some very lovely people, who I miss a lot. Much food was eaten and drink imbibed, opinions expressed, gossip passed, shapes thrown, in a breugelian fantasy of fun. The bride looked absolutely beautiful and everyone was on great form. Extremely happy for my two friends and so glad to have been there for their wedding!

And here I am on day 67, which has yet to unfold. I might go for a walk along the walls to start to pick things up again. It’s much harder here to keep up with exercise. It’s so easy when you have a mountain on your doorstep and less jerky weather. I have been, unfortunately, very indulgent this week and am feeling bad about it, however it has been fun. I’ve also drunk a lot more than I have in the last 62 days, which will make a big difference.

It’s probably time to cut down a bit and I probably will. Let’s see how it goes.

À bientot dear readers, or as we’re in York, Later dudes.

Day 45: Bois de Saint Hypolite

I felt a lot better today and had a quite productive morning getting some work done. Plans for the evening was to go for an early Birthday meal at a gourmet restaurant in Les Gilbertes, so my challenge for the afternoon was to earn that.

On the plateau des Thures

I did so with a nice long walk. This was the same as I did when I went up the Auguille Rouge, except I just looped round this time through the woods instead of trying to climb to the peak.

Extreme foliage part deux

It was a lovely day for it – the sun was shining, and there was plenty of snow on the plateau of the Chalet des Thures. I felt oddly out of shape – the last few days have been comparatively lame I think. I feel I’ve not been exercising as much, probably because of a day off with a migraine, an increase in the amount of work I need to do, and the changing of the weather. Unfortunately it’s that in-between time now where there’s not enough snow for skiing and the weather prevents some types of exercise.

That’s deep snow!

Not today though. It was a lovely walk. When I got to the highest point of the climb – where the path loops round through the trees, the snow was nice and deep, about half a foot, and looked very ski-able, with a compact base and nice powdery crust. It was beautiful and I was tempted to make a snowman (but didn’t, alas).

At this point I lost the track a bit. I had only been up this route once before and it was buried in snow. There were some tracks but they seemed to go off a steep decline at one point. In the end I crossed over a slightly shallower decline to another set of tracks I could see. The tracks turned out to be coming from the sign-posted junction where I had previously headed on up the Aguille Rouge.

hurrah the junction!

This time I headed on down towards Plampinet through the Bois de Saint Hypolite. Last time I did this I was in a hurry to get down before it got too dark, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the surroundings, but it was quite pretty. As I was cresting the hill, I suddenly came across a Chamois, which is a type of large alpine goat, standing on the path and staring me down. It was pretty scary, not because of the beast necessarily (I just stood stock still and it soon bounded off once it realised I wasn’t a threat), but because nearly every time I go out for a walk BF has been telling me “there are hunters out so stick to the paths” (as if I would do anything else). I suddenly wondered whether there were any hunters around, hiding in cover with a rifle.

I turned the podcast I was listening to off and advanced cautiously on. The deep snow dampened the sound and the whole place was eerily quiet. I suddenly became aware that I was on my own at the top of a bloody great mountain. After a while it became evident that there was no danger and I carried on as normal.

The Bois de Saint Hypolite :)

I followed the path down to the lower part of the Col d’Echelle this time and back to the chalet. About 100 yards from the house I got the text “where are you? getting late” – my timing was perfect.

On the way back down the Echelle :)

I actually completed the walk quicker than I thought I would – 3 hours 20 mins. It was a lovely walk and a good work out for the day.

After I got back, and a shower and beard trimming we went out to “La table de Chazal” in Les Gilbertes for an early birthday celebration. It was a really fantastic meal, including this beautiful souflée:

NOM NOM Souflée!

Salut dear readers – à le prochaine fois :)


Day 24: Le Col d’Echelle et un fête

I’m going to quit apologising for being late with my post I think. In general they will come every day but I can’t always get away to write one. Last night this was the case.

Today (technically yesterday) we celebrated Bike Fairy’s 59th Birthday. If you were wondering what my secret project was, it was to find a present for her without her finding out, which is no mean feat! Especially in Briançon, which is a little short of good shops. I found one in the end though, a nice little bookshop that sold nice cards and also some inexpensive necklaces etc. I picked out a suitably cute necklace with a tiny sheep on it. I couldn’t remember the word for sheep so I just pointed at it and made ba’ing noises until the assistant relieved my foreign anxiety with the word “mouton”.

Before we go on, just thought I’d point out that BF spent her 59th and the preceding day cycling up 3 massive hills over 60 km. I don’t know many 59-year-olds that can cycle-tour across Germany, kayak across the ice-flows of Greenland, ski-tour across or walk up the alpine peeks of France and tackle some of the most difficult slopes on the piste. I don’t know many parents that can speak around 6 languages fluently and sight-read difficult baroque music at the piano. I’m very proud of herself, grumbly as she is, and hope I’m that spry when I reach that age. Happy Birthday Bike Fairy!

So in the morning we celebrated a bit with a late breakfast and a trip to Briançon. We visited their favourite patisserie, the Patisserie Turin, a lovely coffee shop that serves the most amazing little cakes. I was abstemious because I knew we were later to go to a gourmet restaurant but BF and GM had too lovely little bijoux deserts.

Bracing myself for the climb…

After a rest, the plan in the afternoon was to tackle the Col d’Echelle. I had been looking forward to this one for a while as I knew it to be reasonably short 8-9˚ pitch and then a nice lush plateau, followed by a really dramatic drop into the next valley to Bardonecchia. It was a good challenge and a pretty route.


The initial pitch was easier than I thought it was going to be. I spent the first 400 yards or so in middle gears and then changed down. I did get pretty sweaty and out of breath but I managed to push all the way up to the car park at the top without stopping. Cycling through the plateau I suddenly became aware of how cold it was as the mountain blocked off the light. I began to regret wearing cycling shorts and no over-trousers. Good thing I had my light wind-proof and finger-less gloves.

beautiful views

The drop down to the other side was amazing. It’s one of the most dramatic descents I’ve ever seen, going through tunnels and swooping down the sheer cliff along narrow winding roads. I wished I’d had a GoPro camera to record it. Maybe one day! One thing though – it was bloody freezing. By the time I got to the bottom you could have snapped my fingers like twiglets. We chased into the nearest bit of sun to warm up a bit.

getting ready for the descent

pretty spry for a 59yo. Having a short stop in the sun at the bottom of the pitch

It was getting late (hence the cold) so we decided to head back immediately (we soon warmed up with the effort). I hadn’t anticipated that we would be cycling all the way back up the col again from the other side, and it was a much longer ascent than the initial pitch to the Col.

Up we go again!

It was better graded though, with a short 10-12˚ pitch right at the start which then levelled out to a manageable 5˚ or so and continued to have short steep bits and long less-steep bits. Although the climb was very long, I found it manageable and the sharp change from 8-9˚ to 5˚ felt almost like I was suddenly going down hill. We stopped a few times (it was a *long* ascent) and there was just one absolute swine of a pitch – climbing through 8-12˚ over about 1000 yards where I had to get off and walk in the end – only 50 yards or so.

On the way back down to the valley

As we were ascending this mahoosive thing we were passed by a jogger running all the way up and down the pitch. What a nutter!

We made it in the end and cycled back home. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done so far, my “first genuine alpine col” as BF put it. It was hard work and hell on the legs.

600m – FTW :)

ridiculous elevation graph :)

Later we went to a pretty amazing gourmet restaurant where I undid my good work a bit by indulging in some wine and an amazing 3-course meal. Oh well, it was a celebration after all :)

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Day 23: L’Argentière-la-Bessée and some French culture

Sorry this one is late people – we got back pretty late last night from the newest adventure. There’ll be a second post later today if I have time.

waiting for Bike Fairy in La Vachette

Yesterday the weather was pretty cold and my legs were still feeling it. The plan was still to go cycling though, and the grumblies had dealings in L’Argentière, a village 20 km out from Briançon, further down the valley. Bike Fairy proposed that we cycle there from Nevache and meet GM. Hopefully the weather would brighten up.

Just before leaving Saint Pancrace

It did pretty much – by 4pm when we set off it was nice and sunny, although pretty chilly. It gave me a chance to tryout my really light wind-proof jacket that folds away into a bag the size of my fist. Was good!

tunnel we came through – scary!

So most of the journey was pretty much straight down. It was a whole lot of fun – 40km might sound impressive but a lot of that was for free. The push down to Briançon was of course easy as usual and as usual I tried to maintain a top speed as much as possible, meeting BF at La Vachette Briançon itself was a nightmare as we were travelling in rush hour.

nice valley just before we turned onto the main road

We then head up through Villar-Saint-Pancrace (which I had explored the other day) and out the other side. Despite being a little chilly it was a nice day for a ride, and it was a fun track. We passed through a tunnel at one point, which was a little scary only because I couldn’t see what was underneath the bike (on a road bike especially you feel every bump, and have to prepare a bit for or avoid them).

Looking down from the peak of the hill

There was one pretty steep hill on the way which I managed to traverse without stopping, and there were some wonderful views at the top.


We then headed down into L’Argentière and met up with GM in good old Roo. A really nice ride over all – really fun whizzing down most of the way, and unusually we came across some really well tarmac’d roads which, if you’re a cyclist you’ll know, is absolute heaven on a bike.

Good old Roo

The evening’s plans were to stop in Briançon and have dinner at the Chaussiere restaurant. I’ve been here several times before – it’s a lovely family restaurant with a nice atmosphere, but with one flaw: I have never seen a place with so much tack on the walls and ceilings in my life. On every surface and wall were complete collections of teddy bears, terrible woodland-scene paintings, bears (which were a bit of a theme), cowbells, bottles, skis, snow-boots, even a giant moose head.

I really wanted to play these bells. There were at least two reasons why it would be fun to run around the place with a mallet

We ate a marmiete piscine – a fish stew dish which was really tasty, although mine was not heated properly I think. Still, a nice change, although probably a bit indulgent. The next day (today) is Bike Fairy’s birthday so we’re heading out for dinner again!

mmm tasty

It’s hard to be abstemious when celebrating. Christmas is going to be difficult.

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Day 22: Day off

Have you ever noticed that you may be fine climbing an enormous mountain and walking 14 km but, when you get home, climbing the stairs is the hardest thing you could possibly do?

My legs are absolutely killing today. It took me a long while to contemplate leaving my little studio room and climbing the stairs to the office where I’ve been working on my PhD. I’m behind on my work by quite a bit, partly down to distractions, partly down to mis-judged attempts at the Aguille Rouge. Last night I tried to stay up and make up for lost time on work, but ended up watching Black Books instead.

So here I am back in the office. I’ve decided today is going to be a day off, to give my legs a chance and to catch up with the seemingly endless lists of edits and reformats that I need to do on my scores. Soon I’ll need to finish an orchestral piece which will prove a pain but probably a nice change of pace.

Sorry this one isn’t quite so interesting! There’ll be more pretty pictures and adventures tomorrow no doubt.

If you’re reading this and like me are trying to lose weight you might be curious to know what I’ve been eating all this time. Well, not an awful lot is the answer:

Breakfast – half a bowl of crunchy cereal or muesli with full fat milk (full fat is not my choice), or two small pieces of bread with jam. Black Coffee.

Lunch – 3-4 small slices of bread with cheese or ham and usually some sort of salad (often tomato). Fruit (apples, grapes, fresh figs). Black Coffee.

Dinner – whatever BF or GM make, but it’s usually been a reasonably sensible portion of stew or chicken with lots of salad and usually home-grown potatoes (GM is a farmer). Fruit (apples, grapes, fresh figs). Sometimes a herbal tea.

I haven’t been snacking in general and I’ve declined puddings and drinks in general (although a couple of days I’ve had a gin and tonic as an aperitif). I take a small cereal bar with me when exercising which I will tend to eat if it ends up being more than 3 hours and only if I feel I need it. Also I have had occasional hunger pangs at night which have prevented me sleeping, so to counteract that I have a packet of fig rolls and a packet of oatcakes. These are not too calorific and are good for giving your stomach something to chew on while you get some shut-eye. I try not to eat too many on those occasions.

I’ve been told that I am losing weight – I’m still not measuring and not focussing on it really – it’s much more conducive to focus on the fun I’m having scaling mountains and cycling through lush valleys. My muscles certainly feel tighter (today they mainly ache) and I do feel better off for it.

I’m interested to know just how much about weight loss is about environment and mental well-being really. Here I’m excited to do exercise – I’ve been given the right tools and a beautiful environment. Good motivation to scale a mountain is just to see the views.

Also, I think competitive sports really ruin it for people like me. I much prefer to just do it than worry about how I match up against someone else.

Anyway, ranting on a bit now. À demain tout-le-monde!

Day 2:Walking to the Bakery

Yes yes, I know what it sounds like. It’s not what you think. A) they haven’t even heard of Greggs out here and B) it’s actually quite a long walk…

View of the chalet from the top of the chamberlet ski lift area

So while Food Harpie and Grumble Meister (after a lengthy and dramatic scene in which I was denied a small handful of granola with my cereal) were dealing with grown-up house-building things I was tasked with walking down to Nevache (about 3 miles away by road) which I was happy to do, because there’s a really beautiful scenic route you can take from our back door, up the chamberlet ski lift area, and across the foothills of the mountains that surround the valley. There’s no path and a fair amount of scrambling but it’s worth it for the views.

Nice gnarly tree on the way up

I was stiff and achey and had a sore bum from yesterday’s trials but was not to be deterred.

The effort of climbing was and scrambling was nice and easy and made it relatively slow going. As I was moving on I accidentally startled two dear out of the bushes and saw a pair of foxes from a way off. The sun is absolutely gorgeous today and I picked up a good burn.

View from the top of the rock

There’s a dramatic looking rock that sticks up above the town of Nevache. It looks beautiful from afar and I was determined to climb it, which I did. It has lovely views. The town of Nevache is small and higglety-pigglety in that wonderful way rural French towns are and has a beautiful church at its core.

View of Névache from the rock

Beautiful local church

Trouble with this place, camera (well, iPhone) rarely leaves my hand…

After that I gradually climbed down into Nevache. The first part of my journey had taken an hour. I got to the boulangerie and ordered “deux pain le blanche sil-vous-plait” and on the spur of the moment “un pot de la confiture d’abricots”. The bread at this boulangerie is some of the most beautiful bread I’ve ever tasted – far and away better than anything you can get in the UK.


I stuck these things under my arm and took the road back to the chalet, which took 30 mins or so. All in all, 1 hour 30 minutes is a good bit of exercise for one day.

The kids in Névache are very talented, and from a young age are taught to levitate.