Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dystopian dream

My dreams have been taking a dystopian turn. This morning I was in some sort of (prison?) camp that contained a school-like building (all lino floors and heavily painted radiators) and a field area with a wire fence. I was being taken to see the unfortunate people and felt a mix of anticipation and unease. I would have to confront my discomfort at my privileged position compared to the unfortunate, I would search to balance my curiosity against having respect for their humanity, and I would have to be on my guard a little to make sure I wasn't going to be exploited myself. So out I went to the field, and along the wire fence was a row of fellow-fortunates, all sat on the ground in sleeping bags (why sleeping bags when it was blazing sunshine? I don't know, but don't ask Freud). As I approached, there was a signal from the other side of the fence and the ragged line of fortunates wriggled back. We were under the control of the comfort of the unfortunates - it was us who wanted to read them. I joined the line, and we did a little wriggling hokey-cokey until finally an unfortunate stepped forward (what happened to the fence? - it's a dream, they're allowed to cheat). I spoke to him, I have no idea what about, but as the conversation went on he lunged forward and made to grab whatever he could. Fortunately, the sleeping bag was pulled tight and my possessions were inside, but he found some sunglasses on the floor. I sat shocked for a second and looked into his unashamed face. Would I have done the same if I were on his side of the fence?

It was getting too disturbing and as I turned to leave, I saw many other fortunates pulling out of their bags and heading back to the school. They must have had similar experiences. Maybe they had learned all they needed, or maybe they required time to reflect on things. As I walked back, I wondered how they could avoid any of the unfortunates coming with us but, as I had that thought, I felt a tugging on my rear pocket. The confusion and disquiet of my earlier confrontation now blazed out with a single tip. Grabbing the hair of my "attacker", I quickly dashed him against a wall. As I saw his pudgy, panicked expression, I recognised him as another fortunate. I wanted to beat the unfairness out of him, but my restraint was holding. Then, of course, I woke up. You should have been expecting that... I did say it was a dream.

Conclusion? Maybe I should re-read Brave New World.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nietzsche Would Have Ridden Singlespeed

Man is a bridge to the superman; man must overcome himself: all that jazz. Nietzsche would have ridden a singlespeed and ridden it up this hill. He'd have seen the point of struggling in a battle that you can never win. Toiling against a hill that's not just long enough and steep enough but, in the winter, grossly unfair. It's not just about muscle, not just about technique, it's an examination of your psychology. The hill is hard, it's harder than you are and it will beat you, but will you commit yourself fully to taking it on? If you are going to fail, will you fail with a whimper or a cry of exhaustion? At any moment you could fail. A couple of inches of leaves remove every visible detail from the trail and drag at your every pedal stroke. And then as every fibre, every twitch, every ounce of concentration is keeping you moving straight up the gulley, a hidden tree-root spins the back wheel out from under you. The frustration is beyond words, but the hill is here to teach you lessons not to patronise your self-worth. Accept your limitations, get back on, accept that it will probably happen again. It's one dark gulley of the soul and I love the chance of success it offers in the summer just as much as the certainty of failure in the winter.

Arriving at the top is like returning from another world. To be without the insistent strain, the mocking and impassive mix of gravity and terrain - it suddenly seems strange. The world has more colour and intensity, and you just happen to be at the top of an excellent trail down to Wendover.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Not yet a human fly

Well, I've had my first attempt at climbing... and it was really good fun.

Just like the first time I went mountain biking, there was an initial period where I had to make a step change in my perception of what is possible. Watching Phil or Nik flow up the wall and even across the roof really opened my eyes. But more than that, I had to open my own ability to commit to things. An interesting head game - just the kind of thing I like (see riding planks).

So, under the tuition of Phil, off I went to try to figure things out. Bouldering was hard with no clear idea of where I was going and the need to swing my feet around to make any progress. Still, I managed a couple of little moves, even if they did require close direction from the ground.

Then over to an inclined wall with holds on it. "If you saw someone riding a mountain bike the way you're holding onto that wall, you'd laugh at them". OK, lots to think about - stop stressing my arms so much and use those legs that I spend so long building up. I try to relax and stand more, rather than trying to pull myself along. I try to remember how lazy and economic Phil's motion is. As I start to make my way up, he advises to me to pretend the wall is a woman and lean right into it (little did he know there's a specific woman in mind these days, but that's a whole other story). At maybe 2m up, I am up close and personal with the wall and he tells me to put my hands behind my back. It's scary, but I don't fall off. That's interesting - maybe I'm more stable than I thought. I go up a bit further and then freak out a bit. I can't see where I could go next and there's a bit of ball/harness interaction going on.

Back on the ground, I watch Graham getting a lesson in how to belay. It looks kinda hard, but a responsibility that I'll have to take at some point. Whether he's working for Phil or Nik, they both make it look easy. Damn them.

Eventually I get back to the wall where I'd freaked out but this time with more commitment. I take some useful direction from the ground. I accept that, if I fall, the rope (and Nik on the end of it) will hold me. And I make it all the way to the roof. A claimed 7m according to the internet (which we know never lies), but I'm awful at judging distance. This time the grin is huge when my feet hit the floor. Another sport that's not as good as mountain biking, but very good all-the-same.

We do some other stuff, and as my confidence builds my arms decide they aren't having it any more. It's great to watch the others tackling their own progression, and I feel eager to push my own. I had expected fear of heights to be a big problem and, in a way, I feel cheated. Since I was concentrating so hard on what I was doing, I just sidestepped the fear, instead of having to conquer it. Maybe that is a kind of conquest. I do know that trying to raise my hand to eat an apple seemed like an awful lot of effort and if that isn't a sign of an evening well spent, then I don't know what is.