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December 4, 2005

Dog Oven

dog cookerWith worrying echoes of the woman who tried to dry her dog in the microwave, South Korean company Daun Eng have launched this infra-red pet drying oven. Notice how the dog appears to look a bit burned at the edges. Apparently, a smaller home version is also available - if you can manage to persuade your dog to get into it.

December 8, 2005

Ilfracombe to Woolacombe

After Scotland I flew down to Bristol, spent an evening with Chris and Berit, then Simon appeared in the morning and we headed off to continue walking some more of the South West Coast Path.

We parked in Ilfracombe and, after a visit to the overstaffed but deserted tourist office housed in an odd building known as Madonna's Tits (due to it's twin pointed roofs), we headed off into the unknown. Simon had provisioned well for the walk by packing some 8.6% lager, which we opened half-way up the first hill, helping to bring a jovial mood to the hike but possibly not helping us walk any faster.

Shortly afterwards, walking through a field, Simon shouted, "Mine! Mine!" and sprinted ahead. Surprised to discover that landowners had begun mining their fields to deter walkers, all was made clear when Simon brandished a new Tilly hat (value £47) which had just been lying in the field waiting for him. It was even a perfect fit and he was so overjoyed by his find that he was smiling for the rest of the week thinking of his terrific luck.

We walked on through the village of Lee, which we had considered calling our destination, but fuelled on by the Special Brew we chose to head on up the steep cliffs and on towards Woolacombe. Partly because we'd made a late start in the day, and possibly due to the beer drinking, dusk was quickly moving in but all we had to do, we reasoned, was follow the path along the cliff edge avoiding the sheer drop into the Atlantic until it took us right into the town of Woolacombe. This soon proved to be more difficult than we had imagined, and we spent the last hour of the walk stumbling blindly around through undergrowth and into the town dump, looking for the long lost Coastal Path.

Finally, we made it into the glaring streetlights of Woolacombe with even enough time to rest our weary legs in the pub and have a pint before catching the last bus back to where the van was parked.

December 11, 2005

Croyde to Barnstable

We spent the night overlooking Woolacombe Sands, risking a £50 parking fine if we were caught, and with torrential rain hammering down on the van roof. It looked as if the next day was going to be wet as well, but undeterred, we drove into Barnstable and hunted down a cafe where we had a lovely fried breakfast before heading off by bus to our starting point for the day in Croyde (leaving the Woolacombe Sands section for a summer's day).

It was pissing down as we sat on the bus, making the scenery look miserable, but as we stepped off in Croyde, the rain went off and we began walking. As usual, we hardly passed anyone at all on the path - especially now that it was winter, and soon we arrived on the huge beach of Saunton Sands. Here, we chose to walk the fundamentalist route down the beach, rather than the shorter 'official' route somewhat inland, though we would later regret this decision somewhat. Saunton Sands really is a beautiful area, though it's privately owned and covered in signs warning and informing you not to attempt to do anything even mildly interesting or you'll be fined. Riding a kite buggy warrants a £2000 fine, and even partial nudity seems equally frowned upon. Simon and I, therefore, kept all of our clothes on.

Lovely as it seems, there comes a time, however, when walking down an empty sand beach, with an unchanging perspective, your feet sinking in with every step, finally becomes boring. Saunton Sands seemed to go on forever. When finally we rounded the point, Barnstaple, our target for the day, was still far out of sight.

The path now embarked on a huge detour all the way around the inlet to Velator, which seemed to have a thriving liveaboard community, and even a few people living in old buses by the road. By this time, however, it was beginning to get dark, and it felt as if we'd spent hours following the coast, making hardly any headway at all to Barnstaple. The route was tarmac all the way from now on, making our last hours of walking incredible dull and uninteresting. The day's walk was described in the guidebook as easy, but the slow lack of progress and flat landscape made it seem much harder than the cliff route we'd done the day before. By the time we got into Barnstable it was dark and it felt like it had been a tough slog of a day, though incredibly the rain had stayed off.

December 12, 2005

UK Trip Photos

Glasgow at nightOne of the reasons I went over to Britain was to replace my camera as my previous one suffered a broken LCD in the summer. It kept on working until the lens jammed one evening last month... and then it came off in my hand whilst I was 'fixing' it. So as soon as I arrived in Scotland I bought myself a Canon 350D which I'm very happy with and it feels wonderful to be back using an SLR again and have full creative control after years of using digital compacts.

Here are some of the shots from that UK trip...

December 14, 2005

Body Painting

Carita was modelling for one of her friends who was doing a body painting test in make-up school last week. Before it she'd been surprised to find she didn't have to be naked, but as things turned out on the day, it seems that the Finns are becoming more modest and she was the only one who was even topless.

December 18, 2005

Finland Photos

Ira in the forest
Here's some of the photos I've taken in my comings and goings in Finland this year, some of which have been on the site for a while, others are new.

December 20, 2005

Unstoppable Google?

Google seems to be adding new features at an unstoppable rate these days. Already I'm an avid user of Google Maps for plotting places I visit and to get better views of harbours and anchorages when sailing than most pilot books give. The recent leak of a beta version of Google Earth for the Mac lets me zoom right in to see the back garden of my old house. Google moon lets you explore what you expect it to, with an interesting surprise if you zoom right in.

Even the basic google search box now does lots more than just searching...

calculate 5+2*2
convert currencies 3.50 USD in Euros
unit conversions 2 pounds 1 ounce in grams
definitions define:World Wide Web
Q&A population of Finland
stock quotes stocks:goog

List of Google Search Features

The share price seems just as unstoppable these days as well, valuing the company at over $117 billion, more than any other media company in the world.

December 21, 2005

Winter Solstice

stoness.jpgToday's the shortest day of the year in the northern hemishere, which in Helsinki means the sun rises for less than six hours and doesn't rise at all in the north of Finland. With midsummer being such a big celebration in Scandinavia I'd been wondering why no-one seems to celebrate mid-winter until I was reminded that the Christian church superimposed Christmas over that pagan festival.

The chambered cairn of Maeshowe in Orkney fascinated me since I read about it at school. Built almost 5,000 years ago, it's entrance passage is carefully aligned so the last rays of setting sun on the winter solstice shine directly down, strike a wall, and illuminate it's interior, showing just how important this day used to be. It's a shame we've lost track of celebrating this fundamental, seasonal event, and I think that building wicker men and sacrificing virgins would be much more fun than doing Christmas shopping and fighting our way around supermarkets.

December 23, 2005

Christmas Tree Hunting

The one thing Finland has is trees. Everywhere. You can't see most of the country for them. So I thought it would be no problem to find a cheap christmas tree here. No chance. For some reason, which I'm unable to understand, they're importing Christmas trees and charging €30 for them, and naturally I wasn't going to spend that on a tree in a country which has them everywhere.

I've always been against cutting down a tree just to use it as a Christmas decoration and watch it die, and Carita advised me that picking your own Christmas tree in Finland seems to be one of the worst crimes you can commit in the country with a €300 fine, so I was now against chopping one more than ever. As so often happens though, we didn't have to hunt very far. We were on a bus passing a wood when we spotted some trees cut down quite close to the road. It was cold, dark and icy, but we got off the bus and went to investigate. Several huge pine trees had been felled, the tops cut off them, and left lying, any of which would make a good Christmas tree in it's own right. We hunted around, falling over branches in the darkness, chose the smallest one we could find, and dragged it out to the road.

We were far from home, however, and our only hope of getting it back was to smuggle it onto a bus - easier said than done with a four metre (12 foot) Christmas tree covered in snow! People in passing cars were staring at us as we struggled, looking suspicious, towards the bus stop with it, and stood waiting for the bus to arrive. When it did, Carita stepped on whilst I blended into the foliage (easy as I was wearing a pine tree), and she asked the driver to open the back door of the bus as if she had a pram or something to take on. At this I ran on with the tree, squeezing it to fit inside, before the driver could voice her obvious objections and the passengers looked on shocked.

The tree took up half the bus, depositing snow from it's branches on the other passengers as I tried to hold it from falling on anyone. An old woman complained that young people should be more careful what they take onto buses (yeah, we normally carry a four metre pine tree around with us). No-one but us seemed particularly amused by what was obviously a bizarre spectacle as they looked on glumly - in fact Christmas spirit in Finland seems to come exclusively in bottles.

After the mission of getting it home, we arrived back at the flat to find that we'd wildly overestimated the height of our ceiling and my Swiss Army knife saw was called into service to hack over a metre off the trunk. This it did surprisingly well, giving me renewed confidence in my Robinson Crusoe hut building abilities, while the dog looked on confused. Shortly afterwards we had a lovely, decorated tree stretching up to the ceiling.

December 28, 2005

Arctic Cycling

Winter cyclingWinter has finally begun to arrive properly here in Finland, giving a white Christmas and snowfalls over the last few days. Whereas it used to be very unusual for the country not to have a white Christmas, in a global warmed world you just never know.

The other day, determined to do some cycling through the Finnish winter I set off to cycle into Helsinki, a round trip of about 30km, and although it was below freezing, the forecast was for things to get warmer. Normally it's a nice, easy cycle along the coast but the sub-zero temperatures made it much tougher. Wearing five layers of clothes and a shemagh wrapped around my head and face I thought I'd be warm enough - if I'd worn anything else it would have been impossible to pedal. The shemagh really helped keep my face warm and drivers also seemed to give me a bit more space on the road for some reason. By the time I made it into town I tried to unclip my odometer and the whole piece of plastic just broke off as it had become so brittle with the cold.

Needless to say the weather forecast was wrong and by evening time, rather than it getting warmer, the temperature had dropped to -10c. I returned to my bike to find it covered in ice, the saddle frozen, and the water in my water bottle had turned to solid ice! There was no other choice, however, so I set off homewards through the arctic winter night. It was bitingly cold as I cycled, my back wheel spinning in the ice when I tried to climb a hill. The windchill from moving brought the temperature down even further and although I was wearing two pairs of gloves my fingers were numb and my eyelids felt sticky whenever I blinked as they tried to freeze together. I cycled on along the shore with ice forming on the sea as it froze over.

I was relieved to get back to the flat alive rather than being discovered in the springtime thaw but it felt good to feel alive rather than having just sat on a bus like a zombie. Though I might wait for a slightly warmer day before I go out cycling again.

December 31, 2005

Reflections of 2005

reflections with IM Jolly
Back in the days long ago when I lived in Scotland and television programmes would finish at midnight, the last programme of the day was 'Reflections'. Presented by a different priest or minister every week, they would sit and invite the late night drink-sodden public to reflect over their day in a subtle yet guilt-inducing Christian manner.

Well, today I am your Rev I.M. Jolly, sitting in a leather armchair with my bottle of whiskey and inviting you to reflect over all your sins and pleasures as we reach the end of yet another year.

Have a happy and fulfilling New Year when it arrives, go in peace, and rest assured that I love you all.