25 Feb 2007

Dangerous Art

Half-way up the long chair-lift to the top of the Pointe de Nyon (2015m) in the very-slushy French Alps, there unexpectedly stands, perched white-knuckled on the mountainside, an unusual thing: an opportunity to get off the lift.

It's not much: a wooden platform with some drop nets, a hut and an icy run off so that any travellers who find themselves too cold, too tired or too fearful of the steep run and the bad weather that awaits them at the summit, may abandon ship, and join the red Aigles run just below its steepest part.

Of course not many do; for what is skiing if not the pursuit of danger, the deliberate placing of oneself in risk? To travel just a little faster than is safe, to turn a just a little closer to the sheer edge, to stay out on the slopes when the daylight has faded to almost darkness and one's legs are aching-tired, and the last lift closes in seven-and-a-half minutes. That's skiing.

And that's how it comes to pass that 1700m above sea-level, half-way up the Pointe de Nyon there works the Haute Savoie's loneliest chairlift operator, with seldom even a customer to break his day.

To pass the time - and no doubt to amuse the skiers - and perhaps in an effort to entice people from their seat and on to his deserted platform, this liftie spends his day building snow sculptures; wonderful sculptures, a metre or so high sculptures, fantastical figures staring out over the pisted slopes toward Morzine and Les Gets below.

Liftie snow sculpture tableau by mbiddulph

Like the skiers this mysterious, lonely snow-sculptor also is a risk taker, a seeker of danger: for some of his sculptures stand on the very edge of his platform, just few centimetres from the passing skiers, with their dangling skis and swinging poles, and just a dazzling few steps from the drop.

All day the liftie works on his pieces, for snow sculptures take a lot of maintenance in the high, windy mountains, and new designs come frequently to mind, and as the chairs pass, one every 20 seconds the liftie darts in and out between them, frequently turning his back, the unchanging, ceaseless rhythm of the chairs second nature to him, he dodges neatly each heavy descending chair that threatens to knock him off his precarious perch and down the steep mountain below.

Liftie doing snow sculptures by mbiddulph.

I rode the Telesiege de Nyon twice last week.
On both occasions I stayed in my chair and went right to the top.

22 Feb 2007

My Sly Hat

My Sly Hat
Originally uploaded by botogol.
So, I am half-way down Mount Slushmore in the low-lying French Alps and running through my mind are three thoughts:
1. My right knee hurts; should I wear my old-man knee support tomorrow?
2. Next year perhaps we should go to Colorado?
3. Did I really just spend eighteen euros on two plates of chips and an orangina?

And I slide slushily past a couple of bright pink and green skiers, verlcroed to a safety pole on the edge of the piste and at the top of a vertiginous drop. Mt Blanc clearly visible in the distance.

And as I go by I she says to him, quite quietly, "but darling, I AM panicking"

And he says: "did you see that sly hat"

21 Feb 2007

Glass Half Full

  • I'm not one of those tiresome kind of people who insist on seeing their glass as half-full
  • but neither am I one of those sensible kind of people who see their glass as half-empty
  • Nope, I'm one of those smart-alec kind of people who remark that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

20 Feb 2007

In search of the perfect margarita #91

Without a hint of a shadow of a doubt, the world's most elegant drink is the Margarita, and no matter how travel-weary, how foot-sore, how sledge-hammer jet-lagged, my relentess search for the perfect Margarita goes on.
It's not just the intriguing pale green liqueur, it's the ineffable ritual of the thing: the lime juice, the triple sec, the frozen-or-on-the-rocks, the are you completely familiar with our range of Tequilas, Sir? Is that with salt or without?
But where did that last question come from? Of course I want it with salt. That's why I ordered a Margarita and not a pint of lager. I'd also like it with Tequila, just in case you are wondering.

The Margarita in the picture was from the Bar Canadien, Les Gets, France. It didn't come with salt, subtled around the rim of the glass with a smear of lime juice. It came with dessicated coconut, slimed on a coating of strawberry jam. It wasn't the perfect Margarita.

But it still had magic. The immutable, golden rule of Margaritas is that in any bar, in any part of the world: if they serve a Margarita at all then a Margarita is the most sophisticated drink that they serve.

Rest assured: the monkey-nut sprinkled Bar Canadien in Les Gets, France is no exception to this rule.

16 Feb 2007


On our road, #3 is a large, three storey double-fronted-side-extended house, that has been steadily going to rack-and-ruin ever since we lived here.

Many years ago the extension played host to a smart, but slightly odd nick-nack shop, now closed. For a while a sign in the front window mysteriously boasted colour photocopying facilities (although I never saw anyone use them) but for the last five years or so it's been completely empty and, despite occasional visits from a mysterious absentee owner who turns up to dispose of the avalanche of junk mail, it gets slowly shabbier, and more derelict each year. High up, a couple of windows are broken. Some missing roof tiles hint at a damp interior and urban foxes come and go from the overgrown back garden.

What circumstances, I often wonder, would lead someone to sit on a substantial asset like that and simply let it lie fallow?

Then, two months ago, the vast chain and padlock that had previously secured the side gate disappeared, and that evening a mysterious ghostly blue light illuminated an upstairs room.

"They've got squatters" said Mrs Botogol to me, straight away. And that evening we lit a large fire, drew the curtains against the frost-bitten darkness and gathered our children to our skirts.

The following week the bay window was covered over from the inside with cardboard and that night two separate lights glowed. A recycling bin appeared on the pavement (environmentally-concerned squatters?) but the front garden stated to fill with rubbish (not in their back yard). A week or so later a broken window and a printed notice next to the front door [We live here. We intend to stay. There is always at least one person one the premises] signified a battle fought and won: they know their squatters' rights.

"Squatters in that house at the end then? " asked my cycling mates. "At least you don't need to worry about keeping a bike like yours chained up"

"Squatters! Can you bloody believe it?" exclaimed our neighbours at #20 who have been hoping to buy #3 since 2002 when they slipped their first hopeful note through the front door.

"Sodding Squatters" said #5 grimly, who are trying to sell their house. "Who's going to buy ours now?"

"It's impossible to get squatters out, you know", said from #54, round at ours last week for a glass of wine and a smoked-salmon blini. "There'll be fifty of them living there by Easter, loud parties, drugs, burglaries, and the police will just let them. In seventeen years they'll own that house"

In our road, we don't like squatters. We like property rights.

"What if someone squatted in our house?" asked my earwigging children, "while we're skiing, how would we get them out".

Inwardly I shuddered. How indeed? Squatters are the unspoken nightmare for every urban homeowner. Outwardly I was reassuring.
"Squatters only squat in empty houses. You don't worry about them".
"But our house will be empty. While we are skiing"
"Look, it's not very likely, darling. Squatters aren't common. They're rare. They're like.... bears: Everyone worries about them but, actually, hardly anyone ever actually sees one. They avoid humans. They're more scared of humans than we are of them. Though, of course, squatters, obviously, are human" (at this, Mrs 54 snorted sardonically into her chardonnay)

The children stared at me. "Squatters are like bears?"
"Yes, bears, Ha! Ha!" I sensed the conversation was spiralling out of control "Just be grateful we don't live up north where there really are bears. and then you'd have something to worry about"
"Why one earth would we ever go and live up north, Daddy? It's muddy, and cold and there's nothing to do. I'm not coming. I'm not leaving my school. I'll find somewhere else to live."
"You could always squat at number 3" chimed in her sister.

Outside, I could hear an urban fox searching our dustbins for scraps of food. Or was it an urban squatter searching for old bank statements? Either way, the naked city throbbed with danger.
"Are there really bears up north?" asked my youngest.

This morning I left for work at half-six and just as I passed #3 the side gate opened and out came a squatter. There was no fur, teeth or claws: it was far worse: a hoody and rucksack. I wondered if there really was anyone left on the premises.

He walked in front of me all the way to the station where he, too, caught the 06:41 to London Waterloo.

15 Feb 2007

Blog Wars

It's like 1914 in the blogosphere, and I fear Blog Wars may have hit Green Ideas as well.

No, not a spillover from the political blog wars raging between the mighty manic and gargantuan Guido Fawkes [rather like Togo coming to aid of the United States, I am pitching in on the side of Guido on that one] - nope, no stray missiles, collateral damage or blue-on-blue from that conflict, for which a hat-tip to Green Ideas' more-enlightened-than-Guido's comment policy.

But what is Green Ideas comment policy, I hear you ask? (Or, I would if you were listening).
Green Ideas Comment Policy
Always write in such a way that you never get any comments.
Not even from your blogging sister.
No, in the great blog wars of 2007, Green Ideas is not a fully-fledged belligerent participant for either side. Instead, more like Spain in 1939, or Russia in 1917, it makes its own conflict. a kind of civil-war: Blogging for laughs by making smart-arse posts at the expense of its loved-ones. So to friends, family, women-who-blog and Eddi Reader's manager, a heartfelt apology. It's tough this blogging, business isn't it?

Tomorrow I'm starting a proper blog.

12 Feb 2007

Eddi Reader live at Shepherd's Bush

The Guardian billed Eddi Reader as 'folk' in their '10 Things To Do' section on Saturday morning, Not unreasonable if you've been listening to the traditional-sounding Peacetime these last two weeks - indeed it's what I was expecting.

Luckily no one had told the band :-)

It was revelation: song after song from an album that I liked-a-lot-but-didn't-quite-thrill-to came alive as Eddi and her talented band thundered through two hours of top class music. Songs leapt out at me. The familar, love-and-understanding Peacetime became a pounding anthem (was that a bit of head-banging I spied from an excitable Boo Hewerdine ?) and the seventies-syrupy Prisons was transformed into an almost unrecognisable (and much better) bass-and-drums-driven piece of edginess. I suspect Roy Dodds might have something to do with it. Whenever I have seen Eddi play with him it's struck me that he drives the performance with his relentless, clever rhythms. Saturday was no exception.

Meanwhile the ballads were injected with a large dose of soul: Boo and Eddi's moving Safe as Houses the intriguing Galileo the charming Leezie Lindsay and even Ay-Waukin-O all were stronger and richer than the album versions.

Eddi had started the evening in underwhelming fashion: unexpectedly coming on stage (dressed in her duffle-coat!) to provide backing-vocals for the support band. It's not often you'll see that, and it silenced the noisy bar, but I'm not sure it was altogether wise: she seemed unsettled when she returned to the stage 30 minutes later, with just Dodds, Ian Carr and Boo accompanying a restrained, stripped down but low-key Medicine.

John McCusker, Alan Kelly and Kevin Mcguire then joined to bring the band up to full strength with the beautiful, lyrical Bell, Book and Candle, before Boo's Muddy Waters headed up sequence of six-of-the-best from the new album, each one better than the last building up to the first climax of the evening, the thumping Prisons, with Eddi growing visibly in confidence throughout, engaging the crowd in the some great banter and gentling chiding us for our English accents, our congestion charge and out trapped summer whale.

From then on th set list weaved, with older, familiar songs sprinkled amongst the Peactime tracks. Prisons gave wayto Charlie Is My Darling and a spontaneous-seeming Moon On The Rain was delightful surprise sandwiched between Galileo and Safe as Houses.

By now Eddi was on a roll. I don't suppose 1 person in a hundred noticed the Frankie Laine titles (Do not Forsake Me, Cool Water, Jezebel) smuggled into Kiteflyers' Hill, but I did. Great stuff.

Peacetime rounded off the session, followed by two encores, and five more songs: the seldom-disappointing Willie Stewart, an a cappella John Anderson my Joe and a lyrical, haunting Allelujah particularly strong.

All round a thoroughly enjoyable evening... Eddi, why don't you come to London more often??

Set List
  1. Medicine
  2. Bell, Book & Candle
  3. Muddy Waters
  4. Baron's Heir & Sadenia's Air
  5. Mary & the Gallant Soldier
  6. Should I Pray
  7. The Afton
  8. Prisons
  9. Charlie is my darling
  10. Leezie Lindsay
  11. Galileo
  12. Moon on the Rain
  13. Safe as Houses
  14. Kiteflyers Hill
  15. Aye Waulkin Ay
  16. Peacetime
  17. Alleluyah
  18. Willie Stuart / Mollie Rankin
  19. Jon Anderson my Joe
  20. Wild Mountainside
  21. Pay no Mind
  22. Claire
Album Track Count
  • Peacetime (11) (just the tricky Shepherd's Song and the secret bonus track missing)
  • Robbie Burns (4) (the four best ones)
  • First Of A Million Kisses (3) (golden, welcome oldies)
  • Angels and Electricity (2) (more please!)
  • Mirmama (1)
  • Candyfloss and Medicine (1) (neglected albums these two)
  • Simple Soul (0) (a travesty!)
Review: Peacetime
Review: Boo Hewerdine Live

8 Feb 2007

That Lucky Old Sun

One of the exquisite pleasures of parenthood is the license to inflict one's own eccentric taste and prejudices on one's long-suffering children, and there is no doubt whatsoever in the minds of my children that country music is the new rock & roll.

Question: What do you get if you play country music backwards?
Answer: You get your wife back, your job back, your car back, your kids back, your house back...

From the Rocky Mountains to the Grand Canyon is only about 5 cm in the map in the Dorling Kindersley Guide to Middle Class USA, so last summer we didn't feed any need to get up early and it was only at lunchtime, when we realised we'd driven just 1.5 mm, that we panicked.

I'll just say one thing: without Colorado Classic Country FM, Utah Ultimate Country FM, Arizona Amazin' Country FM, and Blake Sheldon singing Austin on all three, it would have felt like a very long twelve hours drive indeed.

When I was young, I was at the receiving end of similar parental enthusiasms (how is it we play these same roles from generation to generation?) and consequently I have always known that Frankie Laine was an all-time star, a forerunner of Elvis Presley and one of the first white men to eschew 1940s crooning style and sing with soul and passion. Standing too close to the mic.

Oh, my father liked him also.

Mind you I wasn't until I was grown up, and heard other people singing the songs that he sang, that I realised many of them were actually country music. He was 93 when he died this week.

... got nothin' to do / but roll around heaven all day

6 Feb 2007

Old Woman Climbing

Hurrying along my road on Saturday morning, my sharp eyes were distracted by a pair of smartly-dressed, middle-aged burglars climbing over the side gate at No 42. I stopped dead in my tracks, un-holstered my phone and appraised the dangerous-looking pair

Ever since squatters moved into No. 3 last month, everyone in our road has enjoyed being vigilant. In the orange glow of the urban night, dark rumours have circulated from dinner party to book club, talk of shadowy goings on, mysterious comings and goings, the amount of litter that's built up in their garden, and should someone clear it up or do we just leave it.

Naturally, I was thrilled: thwarting a Broad-Daylight Burglary would give me something to brag about and something to blog about, all at the same time.

I flipped open my phone, thumbed the 9 button and silently rehearsed my call. Burglary In Progress. Suspects IC1, 1 male, 1 female. Beige Slacks, Beige Anorak, Grey Hair, Medium Height, Early 70s, ringleader is climbing gingerly and slowly over side door of #42 with door keys in hand....

....I smiled brightly and strode over "Are you all right? Can I help at all?"

And the boot was suddenly, firmly, unequivocally on the other foot. She didn't look like the look of me AT ALL. She was elderly. She was climbing over a rickety 5ft side door, down to a crumbling 3 foot wall. But she wasn't about to trust me.

There was, you see a problem: I was picturing myself as friendly neighbour, offering a helping hand both literal and metaphoric. Unfortunately I was wearing an England rugby shirt; It was an England match day and I live in Twickenham. To her I was one of 70,000 passers-by up in town for the game and on the lookout for an opportunistic bit of burgling before kick off. I know that now.

They were babysitting their grandchildren. The front door was stiff. Their arthritic fingers couldn't pull it open from the inside. They couldn't get out. They went out the back and round, but their son had freshly padlocked the side door because of the squatters.

I smiled harder. 'Really, you shouldn't climb, OK, but let me at least help you down....BE CAREFUL! .. look, put your foot here... no, HERE"

Reader, she climbed. I watched. She stumbled. I opened my ventilated armpit holes. She reached the ground. I left.

On the way past No 3, I walked on tip toes and craned my neck to try and see over the cardboard sellotaped to the inside of the bay window, and stubbed my toe on the new recycling bin that has appeared on the pavement.

2 Feb 2007

Natural Leaders

In the workplace there are two types of people. Either type can accidentally ESC a powerpoint presentation leaving themselves abruptly, and unexpectedly, staring at strange screen. Easily done.

When this happens one type of person looks helplessly at the screen with palms upturned, perhaps stabbing at a button or two; the other type yell "Press F5, John!", from the audience.

Form, Content & Disclosure

One of flickr's many idiosyncrasies is its square thumbnails. Square has never been popular for photos so it was an odd choice anyway, but in the age of the digital camera it's hard to think why they didn't go for 4x3

But could flickr actually change the norm? I have found that when I conceive of a set of photos for on-screen display I am increasingly tempted to crop them square - just for flickr. I can't be the only one.

flickr emailed me this week to tell me that in order to carry on posting my photos there I will need to reveal my full name, post code, date of birth and gender [they want me to register with Yahoo] Otherwise no photo sharing. Nope, it's that or you're out. They'll even, grudgingly, give you your money back rather than let you post a picture without revealing your birthday.

It's funny to think that, to flickr - and to dozens of other intrusive sites - I am actually Tony Blair, born 1 Jan 1970, now of 10 Downing Street, SW1A 2AJ. Later this year I suppose I shall have to decide whether to regenerate as Gordon Brown, or just go straight to David Cameron. Its like being Dr Who.

I guess I'm the odd one out here and most people just give their names, otherwise yahoo would hardly bother, would they? but I'm not the only Mr Grumpy on this one.

Not by a long way.