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quidity (1296)

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A relapsing reformed physicist.

Journal of quidity (1296)

Wednesday July 24, 2002
05:43 PM

What Alex did

[ #6617 ]

So, what's happened to me recently... First there was the trip to the Alps. I now know that we were in the Haute Alpes region of France, staying at a campsite on the Durance about half way between Embrun and Briancon. It took about 12 hours to drive there from Calais, although I only remember being woken up every hour or so to pay our tolls. The final slog from Grenoble up into the mountains was worth staying awake for although I regretted that a little once we arrived at the campsite, put up our tents and were paddling down our first river by eleven without even a stop for breakfast. The paddling was very good, with decent water levels for both weeks and sun (they claim 300 days per year) during all but one of the days -- leading to a range of tan lines from T-shirts, thermals, wet suits and cags. Their sunny slogan is a bit of a half-truth, as they discount all the rain that happens at night, of which we had a great deal, including a highly amusing onslaught from half inch wide hailstones causing my tent to make nice harmonic noises as the guy ropes got pinged.

We paddled every day, with the better people in the group occasionally running bits of river us lesser mortals didn't like the look of. All but one of us swam at least once, with a couple of people having their first exits from a boat for a year or so -- much to everyone (else's) amusement. I went in a few times; with one scary incident where I ended up tangled in a tree which was blocking half of the river while a raft bore down on me from upstream, thankfully I clambered onto a rock and was able to swim to the relative safety of the wrong side of the river. I say "wrong side" as I had a half mile walk through dense (read 'spiky') pine forest to get to where my boat had ended up. No injuries were sustained during the fortnight, but a broken arm was witnessed in a party of Austrians that tried a bit of river they weren't up to.

When we weren't kayaking, we mostly slept, drank beer or ate. All the exercise we were getting providing an excuse for lots of chocolate. There was a handy little beach on the river by the campsite for holding BBQs on and a couple of cheap pizza places. These had cheerful owners who seemed to like us as we could manage enough French to let them not need any English (unlike the loud Americans which stalked us for a couple of days). My French wasn't quite good enough to avoid interesting problems caused by saying "Autre" when I really meant something else (as it were). This allowed me to discover that I like pizzas with eggs on.

Then I came back, spent outrageous sums of money on new walking boots and shot off to Wales to mend mountains on a National Trust working holiday...

This was mostly fun. The group built about 25 meters of footpath, which is more than I expected we might manage. The site we were working on was around 200' from the summit of Corn-Du, the second highest (if high is the right word for something in South Wales) peak in the Brecon Beacons. This needed a long walk each morning to get there, which took about an hour as it included far too many breaks for the slower members of the party. A couple of us whizzed up it in 35 minutes one day, mostly because we could only get mobile reception once we got up to the top, and we each had important things to organize (and yes, I do now see the point of mobiles, that doesn't mean I've started liking mine). This has reminded me that I do quite enjoy walking and armed with my shiny new boots I intend to get some done over the summer and into next year. (I've been amusing myself this week by collecting orienteering markers in all the local country parks.)

Building the path was hard work. I'm not used to wielding a pickaxe and have discovered yet another set of muscles I wasn't aware the human body possessed. As the weather was good (a week in Wales without a day of rain) the hills were very busy with hundreds of people walking right through the bit we were trying to fix. Mostly they were polite and appreciative -- which made the work feel worthwhile -- but occasionally they'd moan about how hard rocks were to walk on compared to the 15 yard wide paths we were trying to prevent. There's clearly no pleasing some people.

The group was composed of people of all ages, with me being around the average, but suffered a little from the presence of five 17 year olds who all hailed from the same school. I think in general the NT trys to avoid this but a (probably deliberate) "lack of communication" was the kids' explanation. Anyhow, those five were lazy good for nothings who didn't wash up, walked slowly, moaned about the food and bored everyone else with their endless talk about their teachers. Thankfully the other holidayers and wardens more than made up for them and we all had a good time in the end. I'm fairly sure I'll go on another working holiday, although I might try to book onto a 21+ version, or at least keep well clear of potential school holiday periods, when I do.

On getting back from France (forgive the slight confusion in narrative chronology), I was pleased and annoyed to be invited to an induction day for my job. Pleased because this means I'm now sure I do have a job, and annoyed because the date was in the middle of my being in Wales. After a bit of faffing with taxis and hotels everything went very smoothly and I was able to visit the people I'll be working with and find a little out about what I'll be doing. This has left me very excited, as it seems that I'm being paid to be me -- or at least to do the things I enjoy and am good at -- which can't be a bad thing. I don't have an exact starting date yet, but should be getting one in the next week or so.

Other than that, I've noticed that my glasses are getting weaker and that contact lenses are, after all, really quite comfortable if a little tricky to get on and off my eyes. Hopefully the large charges opticians make will be worth it when I can see what I'm doing while I kayak, and tell rock from water before I ram my boat into it. I'm off to the Farnborough air show this weekend, mostly to meet up with friends from school, and will be bouncing around London on Thursday (for the prom and maybe the Natural History museum) and Friday for an art gallery day. I'm also off to France and then somewhere (probably Prague) and finally Rome for a bit of water-free foreignness sometime in August, but that still needs to be organized.

I'll leave you with a mystery: where was way mark 19?

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