Metal Days trip: Day 1 (London)

Day one was mainly spent nerding out. Andy mentioned that the building he works in plays host to the Terry Pratchett archives so I took a trip up in the lift on the off-chance I’d be able to have a gander. However, the archive is stored off-site and requires 24-hour notice for archivists to bring the required items in… and as there are almost 3000 of them you don’t get to delve through the lot! Maybe another time.

Senate House

Instead, I wandered over to the British Library, somewhere I’ve meant to go in the past but never quite managed it. I am really glad I made the effort. A beautifully modern building – I confess I was expecting something much older – it’s airy, cool and a very pleasant environment. Access to Reading Rooms where many specialist texts are stored requires a pass, but there’s still plenty to look at, including pop-up exhibitions.

One permanent exhibit is the Treasures of the British Library and this was worth the trip to London all by itself. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a book nerd. I’m no expert, I just love books. I can’t even explain why (except possibly, “thanks, Dad”) but I’ve always had a massive appreciation for the written and printed word.

Walking through this collection, I was getting goosebumps and it wasn’t due to the air conditioning. Some of the items they have there are of massive significance. Some due to what they are, some because of their age, some down to how they were printed.

British Library

Everything is behind glass, obviously, and carefully controlled in terms of light, moisture and so forth. But you are still mere inches from some utterly enthralling chunks of paper with ink on them. Which, let’s face it, is all they are. Yet because of what is on them, every single item in this collection is an incredible part of history.
There are subsections focusing on religious texts, music, historical documents, science, maps and so forth. I only spotted one spelling mistake on a single placard (I won’t spoil it for you, see if you can find it), because I am that sad individual who reads all the information about the items he’s looking it.

The age of some of the exhibits is staggering, when you think of that they’re made of and how long some may have lain discarded until they were rescued and restored. The oldest item I spotted was from the third century, some scraps of a Bible discovered in Egypt. Right next to it is St Cuthbert’s bible, the oldest known surviving example of European bookbinding. It’s from the eighth century.

Other items that jumped out at me included the first letter detailing the concept of a computer program, from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage), and John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for “A Hard Day’s Night” which he knocked out on the back of a birthday card belonging to his son, Julian. The maps are also stunning, especially some of the older examples from the 15th century. They look like they could have been drawn in biro barely a few weeks ago, they’ve been so well cared for.

Secret Weapon, Stratford

You can tell I was enthralled. Yes, it’s nerdy, but it’s a wonderful collection and definitely something you should see if you’re a bibliophile.

The nerdiness continued as Andy took me to Secret Weapon in Stratford, one of a chain of gaming bars. There we imbibed a couple of expensive (for me, I live in Glasgow) beverages while he thrashed me at Injustice 2 and I destroyed him at Rocket League.

Lovely place, very comfy with a decent range of beers and ciders (but no alcohol-free ones, just soft drinks) and plenty of games to play, including the board/tabletop variety.

I am currently in a comfy bed at Katie’s where I will nest until tomorrow morning and panic about getting into Liverpool St on a very busy train…

Ben Nevis – conquered

Top of Ben nevis

Top of Ben nevis

[Full set of images available on Flickr]

Well, that’s another one of those nice things ticked off a list. I’ve been to the northernmost point of mainland Britain, the eastern-most & southernmost parts of Australia, the southernmost part of continental Asia, the highest point in IndoChina (although I believe that claim’s disputed)… and now I’ve been to the highest point in Britain as well.

Thank you to all those who sponsored me and helped raise money for the St Andrew’s Hospice – a genuinely good cause, with lovely staff who did a great job in organising today’s fundraiser. With 200+ schoolchildren and staff scrambling up the mountain they made sure everyone was accounted for, shepherded and got home safe. Obviously, the Ben Nevis mountain staff also deserve thanks, as do the St John’s Ambulance staff and everyone at the Ben Nevis Hotel who fed and accommodated us at the end of it all. And even let the staff have a free shower!

To paraphrase the great Douglas Adams – the first 1000 feet were the worst. And the second 1000 feet. They were the worst too. The next 1000 were no fun at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.

Then it started to snow.

Only a slight dusting, but enough to make the stuff which had already been lying somewhat more slippery and the last couple of hundred feet more of a challenge. Up until then, I’d be taking a layer of clothing off every half hour. The sun was out, my balding pate was getting redder and sweat was running down my face.

That last little hike was probably the hardest purely as I had to spend as much time looking for footprints to stand in as I did making sure I didn’t slip backwards more than I walked forwards.

There isn’t a whole lot at the top other than a pair of stone… somethings and a tiny shack. And a great sense of achievement. Oh, and a corking view.

I made it up early enough that the clouds were only just coming in, so managed to see in all directions. The snaps (link at the top) should give you an idea of the incredible scenery on the way up and from the peak.

The journey down was no cakewalk either. As well as the skiddy snow, my legs were somewhat achey. The muscles I used on the way up were very different from the ones I needed on the way down! This was partly a good thing as I had developed a hell of a pain at the top of my left leg – something I’d not had for many years, but that’s because I don’t exercise enough. Going downhill stopped this particular pain, but allowed many others the chance to surface. Joy.

Still, I made it up and back again in a little under 5 1/2 hours, which I’m quite pleased with. The nice staff at the bottom gave me a little medal and – more importantly at that point in time – juice, energy bars and a banana.

A shuttle was taking people back to the hotel where we got to freshen up and fill up on “proper” food before the journey home.

A very hard slog, but all the best things are worth the effort.

If you feel the need to donate to the charity, by all means drop me a quick email or contact them directly via the web link above. I’m sure they’ll be happy to take your money!

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Ben Nevis walk – sponsors please!

Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point i...

Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point in the British Isles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not often I’ll ask for cash, but I’m doing a sponsored walk up Ben Nevis on May 6th and I need to raise £90 before then. If anyone would be kind enough to sponsor me a few quid, please let me know and we’ll work out how to get the dosh to me.

Obviously, if you’re local then I can just get the cash. Anyone else can probably get it to me via bank transfer or *spit* PayPal. If you’re a UK taxpayer, make sure I get your postcode and house number as well so we can claw more back off the government!

Oh, the cause – it’s St Andrew’s Hospice. Not one I’ve been associated with in the past, but one that the school I currently work at raises a fair bit of money for.

Thanks in advance, folks.

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Limited travel

Again, a quick post so that the blog doesn’t look like it’s completely lying fallow. I had “kind of” plans to travel over xmas, but they fell through for a variety of reasons. One was price, another was that I’ve started seeing someone who lives in Glasgow and I’d much rather spend the holiday season with her and her kids than travelling.

Given the “travel chaos” (i.e. Heathrow being rubbish) that hit around the time I would have been hoping to get a flight, this is perhaps for the best!

I may look at going somewhere for Easter. After watching the Top Gear Christmas special, I’m once again drawn to the Middle East. A shame that, unlike famous people, I ‘d struggle to get into Iraq. On the other hand, I don’t work for the BBC so Iran is permissible. Last year’s plan was for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – I may resurrect that plan. Kind of apt for Easter.

Summer will be another call. I have “permission” to go away for a long break if I want to. It would be strange, what with the kids, but I do still miss the backpacking and I’m as ever drawn towards Vietnam. Having said that, I’ve still not managed to make it to South America. Or if I fancy staying closer to home, I still want to do Sweden, Norway, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria. Oh, and Liechtenstein. And more of Italy. And Germany.

Sometimes it’s a pain living in a world with so many interesting and exciting destinations!

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Sonisphere Day 3

SLAYER!!!

SLAYER!!!

And onto the final day. Despite an early first act, I decided to scarper into Stevenage on the free bus for a McDonalds‘ breakfast. I got back in plenty of time for Henry Rollins “stand up” routine which was simply staggering. From a metal/punk singer to a one-man troublemaking human rights machine, the guy has been to so many places and done so many things that it’s hard not to be in awe of him.

Without doubt a highlight of the weekend and he didn’t even sing any songs.

Another large gap ensued where I just chilled at the tent and worked through my book. Despite the cloud it was still warm and I actually nodded off for an hour, waking with a start and realising I had only thirty minutes to get somewhere near the front of the stage for the mighty Slayer! I ambled like hell…

It was obvious from the size of the crowd that this was a huge draw for an enormous number of people. Frankly, I’m surprised Tom Araya and company were so far down the bill and given only 45 minutes but such is the state of affairs with large festivals. They didn’t mess around and launched through a brutal set including Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, Mandatory Suicide, Dead Skin Mask, War Ensemble, and of course Angel of Death.

Thankfully, my aging and aching frame was then granted a further rest (and time to head through to the train station for a burger) as there was very little else that interested me until the festival headliners took to the stage.

Those headliners, of course, were Iron Maiden. Legends in their own lunchtimes and several other people’s they rarely disappoint… only this time they did. A little. I know I was shouted down for this after the performance by Sandy and Dave, but I just wasn’t hugely impressed. Far too many recent tracks (which Bruce did justify during the set) and not enough classics. For me, anyway.

Iron Maiden

Janick Gers and Eddie

I know almost everyone lived the show, but I just didn’t get to sing along enough as I’m not as big a fan of the newer material as I am of the old stuff. Also, I was hoping for a huge finale which could perhaps give Rammsteins’ stage show a 2-minute run for its money. But no. A perambulating Eddie – one of the best I’ve seen, but still just a guy on stilts – was the only “extra” we got.

Now don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the show. The band were as musically spot on as always, Bruce is a wonderful front man and the lighting and sound were superb. I’ve just come to expect something amazing from Maiden – and I only got something really, really, really good.

In fairness with a near 30-year history and 14 studio albums (number 15 out this month) they’d struggle to fill even a 2-hour set with everyone’s favourites, but I still feel they have too many classics to worry about pushing new stuff. At the end of the day, if a new Maiden album comes out everyone will buy it anyway.

But, hey. Not to take the gloss off another excellent performance. However, on balance I enjoyed Rammstein more simply for the spectacle. In fairness, I’ve seen Maiden around 20 times, at a guess and Rammstein only once. So far!

Tidying up

An empty festival

Overall, a fantastic festival and well organised. They need more shuttle buses and more campsite toilets for next year (20+ mins queue for a poo at times!), but otherwise a great three days. Roll on 2011. Due to work commitments I don’t think I could manage Download or Graspop next year anyway so Sonisphere better have a good lineup!

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