Sunday, 9 December 2012


Despite not living there at the moment, what has been going on in Belfast this week has seriously pissed me off. More than 14 years on and the ugly head of the anti-democratic loyalist mob has reared its head again.

On the face of it, it's much ado about nothing - a lot of people very angry about the mere removal of a flag 348 days of the year. But there's a lot more to it than that - it's the old siege mentality coming back to the fore. Unionists are worried that this is an attack on their Britishness and that the flag is just the first step.

This sums it up perfectly. The decision taken was a fully democratic one to take down a flag from the City Hall that a majority of the population of Belfast do not see as representative of them. If you don't like it, make a point of voting for somebody else at the next election - but take a moment to think not of what you want but of what's best for NI (sure, I'd love to see a tricolour on City Hall, but I accept that not only is it a bad idea but not right. You don't see me rioting about it). 

The Union Jack means a lot of things to a lot of people. Yes, it is the flag of the UK and yes, NI is part of the UK. But flags are symbols, and in NI the Union Jack has always been seen as a symbol of the domination of one community over the other. This is why it should be taken down - as a symbol of the (supposed) equal rights of all in the new NI. No one for a moment is suggesting flying the Irish tricolour - that wouldn't be right. Flying both flags side by side wouldn't work either, officially the tricolour has no standing in NI. Flying nothing at all is best, until we can come up with something that everyone can get behind (which will probably be never.)

Not flying the Union Jack does not mean leaving the Union. At the minute, nobody wants that. Unionism, though, has never been inclusive - it is entirely built on exclusivity. Loyalist 'culture' has for too been based on shows of strength, intimidation, manipulation and disregard for justice. Now, times have changed, and the current arrangement is quite fair - but many are not willing to accept the new status quo. The current anger towards the conciliation of the Alliance party is indicative of the inherent extremism of Loyalism - not dissimilar to the US Tea Party. 

This time of year, there's a brilliant Christmas market outside the city hall (just under the flagpole). The sight of rioting where there should be Christmas shopping, German beer and macaroons shows how out of touch those involved are. Most people just don't give a shit any more. Symbols have their place but they are divisive; so take them down off City Hall, keep them down and move on Belfast. Don't ruin everything. NI wants a shared future.SHARED. Sharing means compromise, not domination. Engagement, not posturing. And above all it means democracy, not just lip service. So Unionists, please, accept it and move on. You're making yourselves look stupid on the world stage. And moderate Unionists, take responsibility and reign in what I can only describe as dickheads.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tales From the Crypt

In a fit of Kyrgyz nostalgia and early season psyche, plans were laid for Bradley to come north from the 'sunny' Lakes and for us to head to Glencoe to try the Daftest Route in Glencoe. (also known as The Second-Best Day Out in Glencoe or Crypt Route).

Optimism being what it is, I couldn't wait for the experience of camping in a car park in freezing conditions, getting up early, walking 2 and a half hours uphill then spending a few hours in a cold chimney before repeating the process in reverse. And this is supposed to be my day off...
But we gave it a bash. Bradley arrived in Paisley Friday evening and we headed north, Mx-5 bursting at the seams with gear.
Camp was set up in the luxurious car park at the base of the Bidean nam Bian walk in.
All was well and good until the alarm went off. Not long after I realised I was out of gas for the stove, and the seal on Bradley's multifuel perished (petrol slick visible in photo) so cold porridge and no coffee. D'oh.

The walk-in was fun*. From 600 m upwards we were presented with a 50 cm layer of unconsolidated snow over scree. Which was OK because we'd generously let another party go first and break trail.
Slog. Diamond and Church Door Buttresses up ahead. (photo: B Morrell)

By 12 we had reached to foot of the gully, and a short step of Scottish III which we soloed for some reason led to the base of the very daft route.
Basically, get in it, and go up. (Photo: B Morrell)

Me attempting to get in it and go up. (photo: B Morrell)
I got P1, which was some good old fashioned chimneying but with axes and crampons. Lots of solid axe hooks and back-and-footing in the steep and slightly snowy chimney certainly warms you up.
Under no circumstances should you bring a rucksack on this route.
Bradley seconding P1

A tricky start to P2 (best described as a dynamic shoulder barge) led into what can only be described as a passageway into the mountain. Some crawling and squeezing leads to another chimney, which is where the fun really begins Headtorch obligatory.
Not really what you expect with winter climbing (photo: B Morrell)
Knees, axe hooks, fist jams, swimming and the odd bellyflop brings one to The Squeeze.
The Squeeze is an orifice of the mountain not much wider than a toilet. To progress, one must remove one's helmet and perhpas coat and coax Mother Earth into delivering you into world once again through much grunting, kicking and swearing.
At this point it is advisable to put your axes through the hole first, saving you the fate that befell me - The knot on my axe leash got stuck, allowing me to et only one leg out of The Squeeze. I had no choice but to belay there and get Bradley to free me on his approach. I was then treated to this view.
Chamonix binman being delivered by the Petzl midwives

P4 is, of course, an offwidth. A dab hand at this sort of thing by now it wasn't too bad, while being the only bit on the route where you could probably actually fall out of it. Up through an arch and a short traverse leads to a block and the end of the route proper. ONe may continue to the top at one's discretion by means of Raeburn's Chimney; howeever it was dark, we were tired, and Bradley had tat left over from The Jyrg so we sacked it and abbed out. THe free hanging abseil through the arch in the dark back to the ground was spectacular.

And so endeth Crypt Route (V 6). The walk out was incredibly dark and uneventful, save of course me slipping on some ice, tumbling head over heels, and having a JOe SImpson-esque fall stopped short by the only tree for literally metres around. Yay.

Celebrations were duly undertaken at the Clachaig Inn, where we were treated to heat, the Wild Rover, Dirty Old Town and somebody arm wrestling a sheep some bagpipe music.

On Sunday my knees exploded and we had both turned into sore old men so no climbing was done. This was justified later by tales of only hard mixed lines being in, thus justifying laziness perfectly.

*the walk in was not in any way fun