Monday, December 14, 2009

Small joys

I like winter. I don't mind the cold, as long as I can wrap up against it. I don't mind the wet, as long as I'm warm enough. I especially love those cold, crisp days when your breath steams in the air and the frosty grass crackles under your feet.

For a large number of years, I've loved it even more when my breath steamed and the frost crackled as I carried my kayak to the edge of another river, ensconced in thermals, fleece and drysuit, to launch myself into the whirling flow to see what the river and I can cook up between us in the way of fun.

But, the last two years I've been preciously short of those days. My confidence went to pot two years ago, after an error of judgement, lazy paddling and poor technique led to a nasty swim. Since then, I've shied off rivers, huddling inside my comfort zone like a sleeping bag. I emerged from it, briefly, for last New Year's Scotland trip, but definitely didn't paddle as much as I could have, or indeed should have. Don't get me wrong, I'm comfortable with saying 'not today' when things aren't right, but maybe last year I said it too many times. This will sound old, tired, and world weary, but I've been resting on my laurels. I've been kayaking, in one form or another, for the best part of 20 years. And I've acquired some really bad habits...

I'm signed up for, and paid up for, the Laurent Vales Tours Scotland New Year Paddling Extravaganza, our annual week-long expedition around the best rivers in Scotland, a great mix of grade 3/4/5 paddling, beer, food and company. Possibly the best way you could ever spend a New Year period. Having had nearly two years off boating, to paddle well for the full week, I'm going to have to up my game considerably. I've had all the little excuses lined up, the "I need to weld my boat", the "My drysuit's in for repair", the "I'm seeing the missus this weekend". But, now, in the immediate runup to the New Year epic, the boat's welded, the drysuit's repaired, and the missus is on holiday in the US. I know that if I don't get at least one river in, one good, technical section of whitewater that shakes me out of my nice cosy little cocoon before we gather on the banks of the Leny on the 27th, I'm going to spend a week gibbering and having my backside handed to me. So, our period of waiting is over, this is the time.

We organised it last week. A trip to the South Lakes, just a small group of us, to go and do a bit of playing. George and Josh from RoHo joined us, kindly donating the use of their Sprinter van, and we threw the boats in and headed north west. Quick sausage sarnie stop at Devil's Bridge and we were on our way to the Kent at Prizet Bridge.

Me and the Kent have a chequered history. I've NEVER had a good day on the Kent. I've always either taken a swim or at least multiple rolls. For a long time I just had a full-on mental block towards it and would just find an excuse not to paddle it. One drop in particular, at the entrance to the gorge section, would invariably backloop me - a product of not enough speed, bad body positioning, and a complete lack of control. Force Falls, the final drop, has had me a couple of times too; blind panic on the lip, landing on the head. Fun for all the family.

The level was 'good', apparently. No scraping on the first shoals at the get-in meant it was higher than the last time it had given me a pasting. That uncertain feeling kicks in as I pull on my deck: Is that level a good thing or a bad thing? Are the holes going to be munchier or washed out? Only smarties have the answer.

Feeling strangely isolated, I ferried back and forwards between the two eddies, getting used to the feel of a boat underneath me, trying to collect my thoughts, balance my weight, and remember how this damn thing works. Down the first little chute, low bracing and edging away from the kick of the small curler, no worries. The splash of water in my face wakes me up out of the little self-absorbed trance and I'm back in the real world. And I'm grinning.

We bimble downwards, between the sandstone gorge walls, and finally down to the old weir that marks my nemesis. George is down it already, Josh following him. Two 'guard' stoppers mark the top middle and right, the river curls left round the end of the old weir and slopes down before twisting right and dropping away. Another hole at the base to boof and carry speed over (if you get the stroke right) and into the right hand eddy.

I'm a little anxious to say the least, but it's my turn, and I've got three people watching my line, to see whether it 'goes' or would be best avoided. I twist round the end of the weir and start the bounce down, sticking left. Stroke, stroke... hold... and... PULL on the lip of the vertical and I'm over the hole.

Just the lack of the 'hold...' would have got me into trouble this time last year. Speed, I am learning, is important, but timing more so. This is a recent lesson for me. Speed doesn't necessarily keep your nose up over holes, timing might. Like popping the front wheel over a dropoff, it's not about the speed but the timing of the 'pop', of the 'pull'.

So, I'm sat in the eddy. And I'm still grinning. I'm the right way up. Hmmm.

Let's not count the chickens before they're hatched. I still made mistakes on Sunday, still did some things that I 'got away with' rather than 'styled'. We finished the Kent - Force Falls was a lovely 'popped' takeoff and a nice soft landing, the right way up, ready on a brace - and headed down to the Lune. Through Staircase, Magnetic Rock and the Constriction, things started clicking back into place. Again, not the neatest, but coming back together, and not a bad base to work on.

Frankly, I had an awesome day. Good craic, beautiful weather, good company and a nice re-affirming experience.

A happy, smiley Pyro

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Little things...

I used to float six inches off the ground, I was too weightless to ever be hurt.
And I never knew the truth about untrue until I saw you in his shirt.
It's always small things that break you open, they're the only things sharp enough
The soft goodbye brush of your hand upon my face, your world exploding touch"

(Fat Lady Sings - World Exploding Touch)

Why chase the past? It hurts too much when you do. Looking up the people you cared about so long ago, finding they've all moved on. But you've moved on too, so why does it still give you that weird, melancholy, "jesus, if things had been different..." feeling. And the stupid part is that you know it's going to hurt, so why do it?! Why does that loose thread of past, that "I wonder what happened to so-and-so...", that "maybe she's still around..." pick at the back of your mind from time-to-time, to the point where you just have to go looking. It's all to easy to look these days, the million and one social networking sites mean you're never more than a few degrees, a few clicks and whistles, a few nanoseconds of perspiration from someone.

And you look, and you find, and it makes your guts turn to jelly and your head hurt.

Why is nothing ever finalised, nothing ever put down, and no-one ever fully banishable from your life? Why are there so few people who come and go without leaving a blazing hot red scar across your consciousness? The ones who truly get close, who have the power to both cheer you up and screw you up in a single turn, can't ever be truly got rid of. Blessings and curses all rolled into one.

I speak, of course, of old girlfriends, of lost flings, of romances that were and romances that should have been, of loves both unrequited and modestly consummated, and of the small number of beautiful, attractive, intelligent, nice smelling ladies who have sauntered their way into my life and seared their mark across the back of my eyeballs.

To that small, select group, who forever have my unfading attention, my everlasting respect, and the eternal ability to turn a full grown, healthily bearded man into a gibbering, ranting, lovesick idiot at 20 paces, I bow, raise a small glass of something mildly intoxicant, and profess my undying love. Silently.

I have some issues to work out. Normal shonky service will be resumed whenever.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Old dog...

...New tricks?

A couple of interesting bits going on this week. One, I turned 29. Not astounding in itself, birthdays happen every year, but anyway.

This year marks my 20th year of kayaking, believe it or not. Definitely an Old Dog, then, in paddling terms. So for some new tricks! Monday night at the LUUCC session, Jon Fuller (King of the Wave) was teaching me - or trying to, anyway - to cartwheel.

A lifetime of big boats with no pronounced edges has made me quite lazy with my edge control and 'body english' when I'm boating, so the idea is that some playboating, as much as I profess to hate it, will work on that propriaception and skill set, and hopefully improve my paddling. I realise some time ago that I've got some bad habits that get me into trouble every now and again, so I'm looking at this year as a chance to work on them.

And hey, if all else fails, at least I'll provide some amusement for everyone else as I gurn around and fall over a lot.



Saturday, November 07, 2009

Lady Luck (again!)

Opportunity waved my way again, briefly, and I'm out in Portugal right now for the Adventure Race World Championships, with Team Cruachan. I'll be providing various reportage for them, including (possibly) a new blog site.

I'll let you know though!



Monday, August 24, 2009

Crises precipitate change.

Jeez, why do I only blog when things are a bit weird? Ach well...

WHy the title? Well, It's true. It's a song lyric as well, which sticks to something I'm comfortable with.

Things haven't been good recently. Most people won't have noticed this, because it's not something I've let on too much. But there's been a couple of pretty stressful moments, and they've had more of an impact than even I thought they would.

The first issue was my car, the wonderful Fifty Quid Toyota, being delivered a sad verdict when it went in for servicing and MOT. Too much work to do, and too little time and money to do it meant it was officially and End Of Life Vehicle, and time to get rid. A shame, because it was a great car. So, Pyro went looking for something within his budget, which frankly wasn't very much, and came out with a decent little motor. Or so he thought...

A seemingly endless sequence of electrical issue later indicated that it wasn't quite the bargain it could have been. The problems were small, but the stress was pretty immense - I've never had trouble with a car, and have always worked close enough to home that it wasn't a problem if a car wasn't running. But biking the 35 miles up the A1 isn't really an option. So, swear, try and fix, swear more, call out Green Flag, swear even more, take it to the garage etc etc...

In all the swearing, shouting and hemorraging money trying to sort it, I was getting more-and-more stressed, and something had to give - unfortunately that thing was my work. More unfortunately, but rightly so, I got slightly more than a slapped wrist for my poor performance. Disciplinary procedures are not fun for anyone, avoid at all costs.

Those are the crises. So now for the change...

I've looked long and hard at a few aspects of my life that needed a tweak or two, and holistically. It seems that a few problems are sequential. Vis:

I like to sleep in a little, so I don't usually have breakfast. Because of that I'm always starving by lunchtime, so I go to the shop on the business park and get a baguette, crisps, and a bar of chocolate. In the evening, I'm still hungry, so I have a huge portion of food for my evening meal.

This sequence is causing a few problems in itself:
1) I'm ALWAYS hungry. Except when I'm asleep.
2) I'm spending a ridiculous amount on food, so I'm always skint, except for at the start of the month.
3) I'm carrying a little more weight than I want to, because eating a lot then sleeping on it means I'm not burning it off.

So, how do those link to the car? Well, with having to splurge cash on the car, I can't afford to pay £4 a day just for lunch. Solution - make sarnies up of an evening and cut the crisps and chocolate. But a pack of sarnies isn't enough on its own if I haven't eaten breakfast. The solution to that one's obvious - get up 5 minutes earlier and have a bowl of cereal. So that's less at lunchtime, and then add to that eating dinner as soon as I get home, not waiting until 9 o'clock at night. The happy side-effect is losing a little weight. Only a little, nothing stunning as yet. But a start. And saving money has to be a bonus.

This blog post, I guess, is a way of marking a rough start point. I've only just started, and good intentions don't tend to get me too far. But we'll see....

Take it easy


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Life in colour

A few new pics over at the Photoblog (the link's on the right of the screen there!)

Go have a look.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Publication, publication, publication...

Hey up.

A little snowed under with work at the moment - although thankfully it isn't all 9-to-5 grind!

Went out to Spain for the Bimbache again - thanks to Antonio and Rob for that one - and it was great to see a bunch of people again, Anne-Marie and Fred in particular. Also grand to meet a whole bunch of new people - Geoff, Jacques and Elo - to form the so-called 'International bunch'. A few beers, a lot of bad humour and a great time, thanks guys.

Anyway, I put a few feelers out when I got back, and a couple of them have paid off, so watch out for articles and photography by Carrick 'Pyro' Armer appearing in sports magazines in the not-too-distant future! I won't jinx myself by saying which just yet, in case they don't go out, but I'll put a blog up when they do!

Cheers, take it easy


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jack Bloor race

So - a hysterical attempt at trying to get fit again. At trying to run more. At trying to meet people to race with. Anyway...

Ran the Deerstalker earlier in the year - no blog about it because I'm lame - and ran a whole load better than I thought I was going to: 2:31 including a bit of standing about waiting for Elise and Jon (ha ha ha...). That's 8 minutes faster than previously, and it could have been 12. Had I done more training over the winter that would have been even more. But I didn't, so that's a moot point.

So, a conversation first on SleepMonsters and then by email about doing some racing over summer and therefore a bit of motivation to do some training and some informal races over the early season. So I thought I'd start with the Jack Bloor, a 5 mile fell race starting from Ilkley

Hmmm. Not the best of ideas! The picture above shows the route. Little bit steep. And I'm not in a good state. But, that said, I got round. It wasn't fast or pretty, but I'm not, so that's all fine!

Next up? Who knows. Depends when my back unsiezes and the blisters heal...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hymns for the Hopeless

"Well I will be your roof, your shelter from the storm, your footing against the wind.
And I'll mend for you my dear them holes that have been torn, and I hope our paths will cross again"

Okay, that isn't supposed to be as depressing as it sounds. I'm sat in the kitchen, in my PJs, with a large mug of strong black coffee and some blues/country music on the stereo - If you don't know him already, look up a guy called William Elliott Whitmore. A young man with the voice, lyrics and style of a 60-year old bluesman. Evidently had a hard paper round, but he's pretty amazing. - Anyway, it's Valentine's day. St Valentine, who has absolutely nothing to do with love and romance at all. Maybe I should say it's Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival of fertility, rather than celebrating the feast of a very confusing and possibly fictional saint who, thanks to Chaucer, now is the patron saint of Hallmark tat (as well as beekeepers and epileptics. Go figure). Happy Feb 14th anyway. I'm not feeling especially romantic, but then again I rarely do.

Anyway, so I've got to thinking, as I do every once in a while, about life, love, music, blues, ups and downs, and just thing in general. I love mornings like this, they're where I feel like I can write just what the hell I like. I've been having a conversation online with a mate who's recently split up with his girlfriend, and she's moving out (they've been sharing a house for the best part of a year). But everything is upbeat anyway, he's happy enough in that "ach, it'll work itself out" kind of way. And I guess I'm the same.

I've been having some ups and downs myself, in a few different aspects of my life, but I'm still pretty cheerful. I'm not going to elaborate on what those problems are - this is a public site, even if no-one reads it! - but it's a case of things not being what I had expected or hoped. But I'm not good at getting mad about things so I'm trying to figure out whether it's a case of me being gypped, or did I just not read the small print?

One of the things that's not quite as I expected is my job. Don't get me wrong here, I enjoy it, I love working where I am, the people involved are fantastic, and it's most definitely a step-change from where I was a year ago. It isn't what I expected it to be, but there's two factors in that: 1) I got a job I didn't actually apply for, but which suits my skill set and development better than the one I DID apply for. I'd prefer to be more hands-on, but I don't have the quallies or experience to do that. But, after an appraisal yesterday, the future looks pretty rosey, so I'm content.

As for everything else, it's not quite so simple. But it will work out. That's not anything precognitive, or psychic, I just know myself and I know how I am and how I deal with things, and I know that I have a good group of friends around who'll help me out if I need it. And that's worth more to me than anything else.

-- The rest of the info in this file is marked 'Need to Know'. Sorry, if you're the curious type, but ner ner ne-ner ner --

I've just spoken to some old friends. This makes me happy. I have, however, got the 'too much caffeine and not enough food' shakes, so I must go and eat things.

Happy Whatever-it-is day