Walking round with my camera

Created 23/2/20

Oh dear, ten weeks have passed since I last posted anything here and I’m long released from my vow of silence about the UK election. I’m not ready to think aloud about that yet. (I wonder, will there be an adverb “onweb” in years to come? As in “not ready to think onweb about that yet”. I think what I do in my blogging, particularly this personal one, is to think onweb, a sort of musing.)

Oh dear, oh dear, is that even an adverb? It seems to me it modifies a verb but I went through school when grammar went out of fashion. Christopher, there’s a difference between musing and rambling hopelessly: get a grip man!

I’ve really disliked some of my posts that I came to re-read for some reason, maybe that contributed to the lack of posts here. Ah well, onwards.

I’m in Toulouse now (https://www.coresystemtrust.org.uk/french/ gives a cross-link to my work life and part of reason I’m here). I thought I should find the university campus before I officially start tomorrow, so I wandered off from my airBnB with my camera this afternoon. Boy did some money go into the campus architecture and relatively recently: brutalism is alive and well, reborn in Toulouse.

I confess I have a real leaning to brutalist concrete. I love the South Bank though I know many hate it. Anyway, before we get to the concrete, and surely for my and your amusement, I got a fly past… (sorry about the terrible positioning on the thumbnails, double click as usual to get the full experience!)

We don’t see those over South London. I see I should call it “Beluga” not “Guppy” and I think they’re right: it is very like a beluga. Is it aerial brutalism?

I don’t seem to be remembering how to handle these galleries well, or perhaps the plugin is malfunctioning (aren’t the joys of IT boundless?) I also need some sleep so for now I’ll just put up some of the views I took. If you don’t like reborn brutalism, or my rather quirky viewpoints, look away now! … or rather, just don’t double click and jump the gallery.

I think one of those buildings looks more like part of the German “Atlantic wall” fortifications than part of a university so even I, with my fondness for stark concrete architecture, wonder about that.

Signing off with a selfie. A collision between a Giacometti sculpture and a conveyor belt stuck in concrete?

Houston, we may not be back for Xmas

Created 15.xii.19

OK, it should probably say “Tulse Hill” not Houston but even more is lost in translation then. I was feeling pretty OK early this morning, the view in front of me was sensational.

View ahead morning 15.xii.19
View out the window ahead of me this morning

I knew that my train booking for tomorrow had been cancelled because of the French train (and other) strikes but I was still thinking that it wasn’t going to be too much of a pain as I would be able to rebook for Tuesday or Wednesday. Then the reality hit as I searched: no trains at all Tuesday (as they’re showing a mixture of “cancelled” and “fully booked” and as I know they’re showing “fully booked” for some cancelled trains, I don’t know whether this is strike affecting Tuesday directly, shifted load booking things out, or down to trains ending up in the wrong places. The earliest available train that was leaving later than 06.33 wasn’t until Thursday but strikes, I think, are only giving 48 hours notice so presumably I could book that and loose it. Oh, and it was nearly three times the price of the booking I had for tomorrow.

Mont Blanc above cloud 15.xii.19
Mont Blanc never has to find transport

I thought I’d be able to cope with a very long coach trip. NO! Nothing!! J said she found a very cheap coach from Aime overnight to Paris on Friday, but she and I are supposed to be working together on the book in Calais by Thursday … and Paris isn’t Calais.

Ouch. I have to be out of here, at least for quite a few hours, on Tuesday as the blitz cleaning happens then to get the apartment ready for the season lettings starting on Saturday. The agency really don’t want me back in and it will involve lugging my packed belongings out while the cleaning happens and skulking in La Terrasse with intermittent coffees and then unmaking the bed and remaking it for me … and inverse when I get out.

Planes are against my (limited) green stance. Even if I weren’t pretty determined not to go that way, I’ve got a lot to transport so at least two pieces of hold luggage … and the challenges of getting to an airport with connections. OK, I thought, I don’t much enjoy driving but I’ve got a clean licence, I can probably get to somewhere where I could hire a car. Car hire search: only allowed if I took two days. OK, we’ve had a lot of snow up here but I don’t think it will be so bad below that it would take two days (hm, one year we did have to give up and pull into a hotel just north of Annecy going back and another year we only made it to town about 150km this side of Calais coming here, and got the last room in the place). But 500 Euros?! (No, that was for the smallest category car, not a limo.) Plus petrol, pluse péage tolls, ouch, suddenly the train even at new rates, looks cheap.

Ho hum. In the end, after several hours wasted over here and probably at least another wasted back at mission control in Tulse Hill we have a plan! I am booked, expensively, on a train leaving a 06.33 on Wednesday and will go down to Aime and spend the night in a hotel there to be sure of being able to walk to the train and not risk missing it. I won’t book the hotel until Tuesday morning though in case the train vanishes.

Even if it doesn’t will the connection from Lyon be working? Will the RER be running to get me from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord for the Paris crossing? If not, will cabs be gridlocked? Will the train to Calais run?!

Across the valley 15.xii.19
I do love the fissured mass of those slopes across the valley.

The views have been sensational today with the snow over there showing up the complexity of those broad slopes (as the evening sun sometimes does). The skiing looked lovely but I didn’t gawp out of the window much as I seemed to spend hours packing and cramming things in the cave (no, it’s not a real cellar, it our large locked cupboard down on level D where each apartment has one.) I guess you have to take the rough with the smooth!

A three week vow of silence about UK politics

Created 13.xii.19

I don’t want to fan flames of anger and despair in me so, though bitterly tempted, I’m not going to write about UK politics for at least three weeks (that’s 4.i.20!) I am sure this will help me think more constructively than I would. However, I encourage you to click on Monster Crash – Brexit Halloween with Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Ghost Tories. I find it helps, a bit.

Sing for shelter

Created 10.xii.19

Not about me, nor the French Alps for a change. Go to “A place to call home” on the English National Opera site. It’s their collaboration with Shelter and with choirs including of London homeless people to create a Christmas single to raise money for the charity. Sir Bryn Terfel (Welsh icons, what’s not like?), Lesley Garrett, Alice Coote and the ENO chorus and orchestra … and J … which is how I know about it. She loved being in the creation of it and the huge community collaboration.

Play it on spotify (not that easy to find there: hunt around for “A place to call home” or “Sing for Shelter”, ENO and “English National Opera” didn’t get it for me but I seemed to find it in the end.

I’ll quote from the ENO page, I can’t see them seeing it as copyright theft. Aha, they have the correct spotify link:
The single is available now from all major digital retailers, including Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, Google Store, YouTube Music and more. All proceeds from the single will go to supporting Shelter’s work over this winter period, fighting homelessness and helping families get back to living in safe housing with ongoing support.

Go and read their page and Alice Coote talking about her brother’s 22 years of homelessness.

Go and buy it! You who tweet, tweet it; you who don’t spread the word through all your less tweety modes: you know it’s a good cause.

Marks in the snow

Created 24/11/2019

I’m kicking myself a bit today (Sunday) as I didn’t get out into the sun and snow that persisted from Wednesday (https://www.psyctc.org/pelerinage2016/just-going-out-for-some-milk/) through Thursday and Friday and would have been lovely. I was slogging through the usual backlog/overload of work and told myself I’d mark the weekend by getting out then … but of course yesterday was grey, threatening to rain and a bit above zero so it really wouldn’t have been that much out there, today the same and of course I’m failing to shift all the things I need to so I won’t get out and will content myself with a few minutes to create a silly little post about the marks in the snow I saw on my trek for the milk on Wednesday. I do take some rather sad pleasure from the different imprints of the different modes of transport but the last one was the real pièce de résistance. Hang in here until you get to that one but let’s start with downhill skis.

Downhill ski trails above Plagne Centre 20.xi.19

Actually, I think the mostly straight track up the middle is someone with skins or trekking skis going uphill but the waggly ones are the sheer pleasure of cutting some of the first trails downward before the season starts. Here’s how the caterpillar tracks and plough of the piste basher cut across the piste (and some downhill tracks) while it flattened one of the routes between Aime2000 and Plagne Centre

Piste bashed snow 20.xi.19
“My” skier’s track between the pistes 20.xi.19

Here’s the track left by “my” skier cutting from the big slalom piste to cross my uphill slog on the smaller piste in that last image. I hadn’t noticed at the time how he has let his right ski pole skim its own trail alongside his ski trails.

OK, snowboard track going back in to Aime2000 which is leaning rather ominously because of the wide angle and fact that I’m looking down at it for a change.

Self-protrait with snowboard track 20.xi.19

And now for another travel-on-snow option: French style lightweight snowshoes.

Snoeshoe imprint 20.xi.19

That was on pretty hard snow made up of a light fall on top of snow that had been pistebashed. This next is what makes snowshoes good: in my walking boots I’d have sunk into that soft snow towards my knees whereas the snowshoe traveller only sinks in an inch or so. (I did take a few steps to see if I could follow those imprints but even where the person had compacted things a bit I was sinking in and would have had cold, wet ankles and feet by the time I’d crossed that bit of snow.) Oh, yes, the distortion of Aime2000 really is extreme there. It’s a bizarre building in many ways but its verticals are vertical I promise you!

Snowshoe tracks on softer snow 20.xi.19

Talking of my boots, this was me meeting my own tracks as I slogged back up.

Chris Friday? 20.xi.19

This is an example of what happens where dark material is exposed to the really quite hot sun that was beating down.

Snow melting 20.xi.19

But the l pièce de résistance.

Avian touchdown and take off again? 20.xi.19

I hope that’s visible on whatever device anyone is reading this. I think that’s the imprint of an Alpine Chough coming in to land on the side of the trail between Aime2000 and Plagne Centre but I think s/he takes off again immediately leaving those wing pinion marks at the bottom. I think those are marks of tail feathers at the top in a “whoops, came in a bit low on the port side there didn’t I?” landing. I wonder what caused the decision not to stay, or even the decision to land there at all? Would have been quite a good vantage point but nothing to eat just there I’d say. A metaphor for lives?!! Aarrgh, give over boy and get on with things!

Just going out for some milk …

Created 21.xi.19

Yesterday morning I had run out of milk. The SPAR down in Plagne Centre has UHT milk reliably but only gets pasteurised milk on Wednesdays (and mostly because I asked I think, they’re kind!) There hadn’t been much new snow for days but everywhere around me up here was white. I didn’t feel like hopping on Cerise and cycling down so around 11.00ish (SPAR is open 07.30 to 12.30 and 16.30 to 19.30 and only on weekdays) I nipped down the stairs to see if the way down the slopes looked walkable and it did. Clearly pistebashers had flattened two narrow pistes that run from Aime2000 to Plagne Centre. Back up for backpack and money (I hadn’t thought it would look OK and had wondered about cross-country skis or snowshoes) and off I went.

South facing side of Aime2000 21.xi.19
Leaving Aime2000

As you can see, the snow on the metalled track there had melted in parts and of course once the dark tarmac is exposed it soaks up the sun. I legged it off and did think, “Hm, this is a bit different from nipping round to Coop in Tulse Hill!”

It was, I really didn’t need the thick fleece I had on, though perhaps just a t-shirt would have been too little. At first I was squinting with the sun (I never remember sunglasses) but everywhere (well, with a few bits of tarmac and trees excepted, was white, the sky was pretty uniformly blue and this looked like a fun trip.

At the bottom of the nursery run behind Aime2000 looking toward Grande Rochette in the centre and les Verdons to the right
At the bottom of the nursery run behind Aime2000 looking toward Grande Rochette

So I legged it down, very happy with the winter walking boots I got half price summer 2018 when I first arrived here. Where I cut off piste bashed snow I could sink in a few inches and a bit did puff up and get into the boots (get gaiters Chris!) but I was generating enough warmth to dry that out fast. I guess 600m or so and a few bends lower and Plagne Centre comes into view. That peak in the distance beyond Plagne Centre is Bellecôte and the sadly diminishing local glacier.

Where the connection from Aime2000 meets the wider piste dropping into Plagne Centre.  Snow blower on the left.
Where the connection from Aime2000 meets the wider piste dropping into Plagne Centre

A bit more walking brought me down to Plagne Centre itself.

When I came out of SPAR (oh yes, this week they did have pasteurised milk, last week none!) I met this sight.

Ski group in Plagne Centre

They looked really happy. I’m not sure how high they had walked up to ski down. The kit looks fairly serious so I’m guessing they’d gone up for an hour or two before the run down. I think it would probably be a three hour walk to the top of Grande Rochette and if it’s not pistebashed all the way, you’d need skis with skins or snowshoes. Definitely not the local look back in Tulse Hill. Probably not going to sit on the local bench and just drink in the sights looking up to Grande Rochette and les Verdons.

So, now with full pack, enough for a week if I need, I was turning back. up to Aime2000. This was the view ahead.

Becoin lift and the slalom slope down into Plagne Centre

If you look carefully, just above that apartment block, halfway up the slope is a skier walking up. (The lifts won’t work until the season starts on 14.xii.19.)

I think he’s got the downhill skis with skins or the toothed surface that allows you to ski (laboriously) upwards as if you had cross-country skis. I walked on for a bit, finding it hard going, a bit like walking up a sand dune as many steps, if I didn’t choose the best packed, hardest piste bashed snow, sank in up to an inch. Funny how much that slows you down and sucks energy. Then who should emerge off piste between that main slalom piste and the minor run into Plagne Centre that I was labouring up. As usual, click on them to get the full image.

We waved and smiled and he slipped off to his lunch and I felt all of amused, lifted and a little bit envious and wondering why I wasn’t doing that! However, with views behind like this …

Roche de Mio and Bellcote behind

[OK, I give up on getting the o with the circumflex in there!] … and this just behind me, the skier had dropped down round the end of that bunch of trees on the right crossing my path up the slope there.

And soon enough I was coming home.

Aime2000 really is a bizarre and wonderful building. These could have done with some rotating and cropping but they’ll do.

Yes, it’s a diferent way of life up here!

Icicles, snow and freedom

Created 16/12/19

I hope this doesn’t just end up as a bit of pretentious drivel! Oh but it might! I think it’s something I’ve been puzzling for some weeks now. It could get as hugely pretentious as “what is it all about?” or just “why bother?” but today it was triggered by an article in the Guardian:


And it really goes back to something I wrote in this blog over two years ago:


That was partly about going to a small rally in London protesting against the threats to the Central European University (CEU) in Hungary. Sadly the Guardian article confirms that Orbán’s political power base has succeeded in forcing the CEU out of Hungary (apparently a small research remnant remains but the main teaching has shifted to Vienna). This is the first time “in decades” according to the article, that a university has been forced out of a European country. I wonder how many decades? Where was the last? In an “iron curtain” country before the fall of the wall? In Nazi Germany?

I was a bit shocked to go back and re-read my blog post from back then (3/5/17). It’s not well written: over-complicated and unclear, however, I guess the passion about academic and general freedoms was there and some humour, if you accept my variants on that idea. The same struggle to make time to blog when behind with work was there, exactly as I feel now.

Has this got anything to do with icicles? Perhaps only to me but there should be a nice little one at the head of the post. That’s to the right of my main window here, at the other side I currently have three icicles: two small ones like that one on the right, and a huge one! The huge one is over a week old now and I’ve watched it grow and reshape day by day and it’s been my very simple thermometer: if it’s dripping then the air temperature is above zero, if it isn’t, then the air temperature is below zero. OK, it’s a pretty limited thermometer but I suspect it’s really pretty valid and sensitive around that zero point. Better than just a thermometer, it’s also been gentle entertainment: it’s mostly grown, day on day, but it’s reshaped far more than I would have imagined. It’s now between five feet and two metres in length and must weigh a bit. I think if this were the ski season the gardiens would have bene round looking for monsters like that on the other side of the window as this thing could certainly kill if it fell eleven stories. However, it’s on the safe side of the window: it would take an amazing wind to get it to clear the balcony of the apartment below (and there’s no-one there currently).

It’s also picqued my curiosity and got me thinking more about how it is that icicles can be branched, how they can be rippled, how they get air bubbles inside them. I love all that fairly idle ruminating and I know it’s trivial but it’s also a privilege I have up here. I can just think, or I can if I get my head up from the keyboard enough. For me there’s a funny sort of thinking that is just aesthetic appreciation: I think these icicles are pretty pleasant to look at. Perhaps beautiful is too strong but they’re good! Another bit is geeky: I love thinking about the physics of how they form and shape themselves. I rather like it that, to be honest, I really don’t think I have a clue why the big one is so rugous (ooh, now there’s a lovely medicalese word for ribbed and wrinkled!) I think I have started to understand how they can fork but I really don’t understand the bubbles inside the big one.

This is an incredible luxury to have grown up allowed to wonder, allowed to trust yourself to look and not perhaps always see what you expected to see, and then to trust yourself to think more, to reach for others (OK, “others” is generally wikipedia, or DuckDuckGo) and speculate more. Mine are pretty petty musings but I think it matters that I can have them. I do worry that we seem to be living in an era in which much is done to discourage people from free thinking, and perhaps particularly from the sort of free thinking that wants “true insights” to come from the thinking. Orbán doesn’t want this, Putin doesn’t want this, Trump doesn’t want this, I’m sorry but I’m not sure how many UK politicians I think really want much of this. I’m really sorry, but I’m not sure how many UK academics really want this. Perhaps that’s unfair but I’m not the only one worrying that the climate that allows them to want and pursue that is being eroded. Another Guardian link:


OK. Enough, I’m lucky. And here are my icicles. As ever, click on them to get into a lightbox presentation that allows you see them in full size and scroll through them.

Snow in different lights 5.xi.19

Created 5.xi.19

I do want to keep things, and particularly reasonable ‘photos of the amazing views, coming up here but it’s been a long work day and I’m tired and, without sitting down and thinking for a little while, I don’t really have anything to say other than that the light changed dramatically through the day and the views were glorious much of the time. So I’m just going to put up a collection of today’s ‘photos without even any captions. I hope they give someone as much pleasure as raising my eyes from the screen from time to time gave me! I think the point about the changing light will be self-explanatory. The snow on some is falling snow: none were shot through glass.

Snow has dropped in

Created 3.xi.19

When I got up this morning (3.xi.19) all the higher peaks were covered in snow. For an hour or so I got on with things and just enjoyed the privilege of such a view, then something struck me: it really was so fine that it was why I have a good camera. That view above is a telephoto view away toward the head of the valley. I particularly like that effect when the moisture in the air, and the rather dead, grey light through the thick high snow clouds washes out most colour and turns things into indistinct shapes. Here’s some more of the ‘photos as I pulled a fleece on and stepped out onto the terrace. As usual, click on the images and you should get a larger view and can scroll through them. You should see a short explanatory caption of you hover over an image too.

At that point there was a very clear snow line. In the distance it was 500 to 1000m above me I’d guess but looking south there was a light dusting of snow just above me. That meant that our wonderful deciduous conifers were standing out orange and yellow against the clouds and higher snow.

Then it all changed: in fifteen minutes or so, or so it felt, the snow dropped in and the view even below me was all shades of white and grey.

Stunning. I particularly liked that Chinese painting look in the far distance that I had in the morning before the snow dropped in. You can watch it all happen in the timelapse video of the day: https://vimeo.com/370701760

Aime2000: my strange home in the Alps!

[First posted 27.x.19]

Yesterday was a gloriously sunny day and I’m not sure how many more of those there will be before I return to the UK just before Christmas so I decided to go for a walk. My route was largely shaped by staying in the sun as much as possible as that was warm but the air in shadow was cool, uncomfortably so if you stood still too long to take ‘photos. (I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts but didn’t want to keep pulling on and off a light fleece I’d put in my little backpack.) I wanted to get on top of mapping walks and rides and getting the maps up here so I set Strava working on my French ‘phone and here’s the map courtesy of Google.

You should be able to zoom and scroll that to your heart’s content and you should also be able to change how Google displays the maps. That should show my walk in thick black on top of the map which should default to “map” format and “terrain” shading. If you switch to “satellite” format you get what it says (well, I think it might have been from a plane not a satellite) and there you can switch the labels on and off. Those labels, mostly lines, seem to be a rather odd mix of dotted red straight lines for lifts and buttons (the routes of the buttons straightened), solid blue and red lines for runs (a number of black runs completely omitted) and white for footpaths.

Here’s how Strava shares the same information. If you click on that it takes you to the Strava page and there’s a rather good altitude and speed plot, the latter showing how often I stopped to take ‘photos!

I ended up taking umpteen ‘photos and I have winnowed them down but let’s come back to my starting point: Immeuble Aime 2000 or Aime2000 (or A2k to me now). Here, zoomed in and in what I believe is a view from a plane, not a satellite, here is the extraordinary building that is now my home seen from above.

And here’s how it looking back from some distance away but early in my loop around it.

Aime2000 seen from above Plagne Centre

I like the way the ziggurat structure is both completely of its late 60s (opened 18.iii.1970) concrete “new brutalist” style but also catches something of the vertical and horizontal twists of the scenery (look back at that short from above and yes, it’s harshly linear but it also twists as the valleys and ridges do all around it). It’s so much cleverer than its neighbours.

Aime2000, Haut Bois and Club Med (L to R)

Haut Bois, actually behind Aime2000 and familiar to anyone who has watched any of my timelapse videos of cloud drama up here is at least not a technicolor shocker but the Club Med building really is horrible, shame on whoever allowed it and whoever designed it!

OK. I’ll leave this with a gallery of fond, if not always flattering, images from my circumnavigation of my French home. If you hover over an image you should see a caption for it. Probably the best way to see them is to click on the first one and scroll through. There’s a download button in the unlikely event anyone wants to download them. If so, as is my usual licence, the Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike licence applies.