<![CDATA[Calories per pence]]>an anecdote ineffectually attempting to lose itself in the mists of time.]]>http://caloriesperpence.comNodeJS RSS ModuleFri, 23 Oct 2020 19:49:12 GMT60<![CDATA[Crudely Drawn Swords - where to start?]]>Wondering which Crudely Drawn Swords episode to start with? On their Twitter account they suggest that you start with season two. That’s where I started. After numerous exclamations of, “What happens on the wall stays on the wall,” I eventually decided to go back and listen to season one in a quest for more background knowledge.

I discovered that season one contained a very small amount of knowledge that season two built on. I didn’t mind listening to season one (there are some very amusing bits) but I would happily have read this article instead, which is why I have written it.

There are three sections below. Each one reveals more than the one before.

Types of play by episode - few, if any, real spoilers

Episodes 1 & 2 : One fight per episode. Each fight takes up a lot of its episode. The players are learning the mechanics of combat. The fights felt drawn out to me.

Episodes 3 & 4: Both episodes contain a lot of discussion. I don’t think the players are comfortable with pushing the story on at the start. It feels like they are trying to make sure they don’t mess up (very different from the brash approach in season two) and I think they might also be striving for consensus. Towards the end of episode 4, I started to notice the flavour of character interactions I was familiar with from season 2.

At this point I started paying more attention.

Episodes 5 & 6: One fight per episode. Each fight takes up a lot of its episode. Slicker than the first two fights. Starting to see some show-boating by characters and rivalry for coolness.

From now on, I think that entities and events that are referred to in season 2 appear more frequently.

Episode 7: Horror is mixed in with the comedy in this journey episode. My favourite episode of the season.

Episodes 8 to 12: Bloody, small unit combat with party members as unit leaders. Despite the ever present humour I found it a bit harrowing.

Season one context - information mostly from episode one

Caris and Sudek are neighbouring countries. Until recently they shared a common religion. The church of the Seven Sisters is the principal religious institution in the region, but an ice cult has swept up the citizens of Sudek. The religious revolution has triggered political tension. Both Sudek and Caris have mobilised armies.

In this fraught situation, the church of the Seven Sisters has sent one of its knights, Percival Cleft, into Sudek. His mission is to retrieve an artefact that may be of great importance.

Season one events - proper spoilers

Episode 1: The party retrieve the sword of the long dead general Aylana Sarista from her tomb beneath a church of the Seven Sisters. Tristan the bard has a vision of general Sarista fighting, and being overwhelmed by, a horde of half human creatures. (Tentacles are mentioned.)

Episodes 2 - 4: The party discover a Sudek army led by ice priests making its way to the border crossing that the party came from. The army seems to contain a company of mercenaries called the Sunder. The party sneak past the army and get back to the walled-border with Caris.

Episodes 5 & 6: Percy wields Aylana Sarista’s sword and finds that it is imbued with ice magic. The party finds that the small Sudek garrison at the border are no fans of the ice cult. They say that the ice cult has ways of forcing people to convert to their cause. The two groups agree to defend the wall while they wait for reinforcements from Caris.

Episode 7: Enigma the sneaky and Bambari the adolescent wizard go for reinforcements. They encounter a murderous and powerful fae called Ambiforax who they escape but do not defeat. Ambiforax is strengthened by blood spilt on the ground.

Episodes 8 - 12: Percy and Tristan each lead a small unit in defense of the wall. Their leadership styles are very different. Of particular note are Tristan’s macabre psychological warfare tactics. Percy uses the power of the sword to drop a big chunk of mountain on the Sudek army. After surprisingly few casualties among the defenders, they are relieved by a significant force brought by Enigma and Bambari.

Edit: One of the casualties is a soldier called Boots. In their brief acquaintance as comrades-in-arms, Tristan develops amorous feelings for Boots and is particularly affected by her death.

Edit: I split Episodes 2-6 in this section into 2-4 + 5&6 in case anyone wants to start at episode 5. I also added bigger gaps between episode notes in case that helps anyone to stop reading and start listening part way through.

http://caloriesperpence.com/crudely-drawn-swords-where-to-start/02874f3f-22e1-4da2-8ce8-d6a002317d1aThu, 28 Nov 2019 17:17:09 GMT
<![CDATA[Comparing Helikon-Tex trousers]]>I like having cargo pockets on my trousers. I carry a pen, some scrap paper, a large phone, several bike-lock keys as well as my house keys, and sometimes a compact camera. I find this collection of things easiest to store in cargo pockets. Unlike a bag, I don't risk leaving my cargo pockets on the bus(!) and it would be uncomfortable to to try fitting all of these things into regular trouser pockets.

In the past, I bought trousers with cargo pockets from high street clothes shops. My two problems with them have been:

  1. They're generally made of very lightweight cotton which wears out in the seat (due to my travelling by bicycle a lot) and sometimes in the knees.

  2. The layout of the pockets sometimes seems to be chosen for aesthetic rather than practical reasons, making some of the pockets unusable for me.

A few years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I bought a pair of Helikon-Tex M65 trousers. The pocket layout was practical and the nyco fabric was incredibly hard-wearing and I haven't looked back since. The M65 trousers are great in cold weather, but above 10°C I start wishing for something more breathable, especially if I'm doing something moderately active.

Available styles

Since I bought those M65s, I've bought a few other pairs of Helikon-Tex trousers. They seem to be in a sweet spot of good quality / reasonable price. I had to sew the waist button back on to the first two pairs I bought, and repaired a front pocket in a more recent pair, and this feels like a small inconvenience to me. At the lower end of their price range (below £40 at time of writing) there are 4 styles that are available in solid colours. These are, in order of price:

  • BDU (an old U.S. forces pattern)
  • SFU Next (version 2.0 of a proprietary Helikon pattern)
  • M65 (an old U.S. forces cold-weather pattern)
  • CPU (another proprietary Helikon pattern) - I haven't bought any trousers in this pattern yet.

In the same price range, there are also two styles that are only available in camouflage colours: PCS (current UK forces pattern) and ACS (current US forces pattern.) I haven't looked at those because I'm not interested in camo.


Helikon make trousers in 4 kinds of fabric. Heaviest first, these are:

  • Nyco - A 50:50 nylon/cotton blend. The M65 trousers are only available in this material in a sateen weave. This is heavy and extremely hard wearing. Last year, I fell off my bike and scraped along the ground for about a metre on my knee. My knee still shows a scar but I can only see tiny spots of wear on the trousers. If I need to wade through a thicket of brambles, this is the fabric I want my clothes to be made of. Also, it doesn't seem to shrink at all when washed.
  • Polycotton twill - A heavyweight polyester/cotton blend. Twill is supposed to drape more attractively than some other weaves. I find this fabric hard-wearing but a bit coarse. I'd rather wear something else.
  • Polycotton ripstop - A mid-weight polyester/cotton blend. This seems to be Helikon's most used trouser fabric and has the biggest selection of colours. I haven't bought any trousers in this fabric yet.
  • Cotton ripstop - A pure cotton ripstop. According to Helikon's website, trousers made with this fabric are only a few grams lighter than the same style in polycotton ripstop. I assume it is more breathable than the polycotton though, because in most styles it is only available in two colours: khaki, and desert camo. Even though I'm not keen on khaki, I've bought trousers in this fabric for their breathability.

Differences in styles


The M65 and SFU Next have their cargo pockets mounted high on the leg. This suits me.

The BDU trousers have lower cargo pockets and I have had to sew across the bottom of the pockets in order to shorten them. Without this modification, the contents of the cargo pockets hit me in the knee when I walk briskly or run. (I guess my legs are shorter or differently proportioned from most customers.)

From photos of the CPU trousers, it looks like the cargo pockets are mounted low, like the BDUs. That's why I haven't bought any CPU trousers.

Both the SFU Next and CPU cargo pockets have technical features (but not all the same features in both styles.) Unlike the older designs, they also have extra pockets as well as the usual front and back ones.

One thing that I do not like about the SFU cargo pockets is that they have velcro flaps. (The CPU are advertised as having this too.) This is a pain if you are wearing a top in a high-loft material because it will catch on the velcro when you reach into the pocket, potentially damaging the material.

Waist adjusters

All four styles have waist adjusters. In theory, this means that you do not need a belt to get the fit right. In my experience the adjusters on the M65 trousers slowly loosen so I never rely on these.

The SFU trousers (which are the most "fitted" style mentioned here) have velcro waist adjusters. I like these a lot. The waist size is totally locked in and the velcro is completely covered so it should not catch on other clothing.


Most of the styles have a double layer of fabric at the knees and in the seat. As I travel mostly by bicycle, I love this.

In the case of the SFU Next and CPU trousers, the double layering at the knees comes in the form of kneepad pockets. Helikon sell insertable kneepads separately.

The M65s do not have this double layering but the nyco fabric is so tough that this is irrelevant. A pair of M65s have been my most-worn trousers for 3 years now and there is no sign of wear in the seat or knees. The Helikon website does say "Reinforced seat and knees" for these too, but I'm not sure what this is referring to.

The M65 trousers use a longer piece of material for the front of each leg, which is then shortened to the required length by sewing a couple of folds into the seams. This might be what Helikon mean by reinforcement. It seems to give greater freedom of movement than the other styles, which might reduce the amount of force that seams have to cope with. On the other hand, the M65 is the baggiest style because it is compatible with a button-in thermal liner, so this freedom of movement may not be due to the folds after all.


Your choice of trousers from the styles I mention might be influenced by available fabrics (and colours), the height at which cargo pockets are mounted, technical pocket features, and fit including waist adjusters.

The table below includes a mixture of generic manufacturer information and information specific to the trousers I've bought.

Available fabrics nyco sateen polycotton twill,
polycotton ripstop,
cotton ripstop
polycotton ripstop,
cotton ripstop
nyco ripstop (only in camo colours),
polycotton ripstop,
cotton ripstop
Cargo pockets mounted high high low low (judging from photos)
Fabric purchased nyco polycotton twill polycotton ripstop cotton ripstop cotton ripstop
Helikon quote one weight for each style/fabric comnbination. Presumably all weights are for the same size.
Helikon quoted weight (grams) 988 950 785 775 680
I wear size small in regular leg length, so measured weights (below) are all for that size.
Measured weight (to nearest 10 grams) 900 800 670 630 630
http://caloriesperpence.com/comparing-helikon-tex-trousers/2325c76e-c63f-4fac-84e1-f54c976929b1Sat, 07 Apr 2018 12:47:00 GMT
<![CDATA[Earwax, eczema, and oils]]>Tldr: Got eczema and need to treat earwax? Pharmaceutical grade pure white mineral oil bought on eBay worked for me.

I have had eczema of varying severity since 1990. Something about going to university seemed to bring it on. I have also had hearing problems since I was a child due to having very narrow ear canals and a great ability to produce earwax.

I have treated the earwax buildup from time to time with olive oil drops and occasionally I have had my ears syringed. My memory of having my ears syringed as a child is that it was a painful and prolonged process. The last time I had it done was in 2006 and to my surprise it was no longer a manual process. Instead, the water-flow was controlled by a machine. It took about three painless seconds and was such a relief.

As I have got older, my ears have reacted more and more badly to olive oil. The skin in my ears becomes hard and dry and flaky. The last time I tried it I developed a painful crack in my skin that took a long time to heal. This surprised me. I had assumed that olive oil would be good for my skin.

After that experience, I went online to find out whether there is a link between olive oil and eczema. I quickly found a very interesting article about massaging babies and what liquids could be used. That was informative and mentioned some research at the University of Manchester that compared the use of olive oil, sunflower oil and no oil, in the massage of newborn babies. The part of the abstract that interests me most is:

Topical oils on baby skin may contribute to development of childhood atopic eczema ... The study was not powered for clinical significance, but until further research is conducted, caution should be exercised when recommending oils for neonatal skin.

A bit of internet searching found several alternatives to olive oil mentioned for earwax softening. These included various other oils and also dilute hydrogen peroxide. I found a chart in a research paper about the composition of vegetable oils (see table 1 in that link) and saw that coconut oil had a very different composition from the other oils, being mostly saturated fats. I tried coconut oil and it was less harsh on my ears than olive oil but it still caused skin irritation.

The article on the Blossom and Berry site mentions mineral oil. In the UK, pharmaceutical and body-care products, such as Johnson's Baby Oil, list this as "paraffinum liquidum". It is a petrochemical product and Blossom and Berry do not recommend it for baby massage because

...it does not allow the skin to “breathe” and it has no nutritional value to the skin as it contains no vitamins. Again it has a strong artificial smell which can mask the natural smell of the parent/baby.

But mineral oil appealed to me for a related reason, i.e. it is a mixture of very simple chemicals (alkanes) that should not react with the chemicals that skin is composed of. This is very different from vegetable oils that are composed of fatty acids. Acids will react with the constituents of skin.

Buying pure mineral oil turned out to be harder than I expected. It is a component in things like Johnson's baby oil, which also contains perfume and a thickening agent. In the end I found what I wanted on eBay. Mineral oil is also sold as "chopping block oil" for conditioning wooden chopping boards. I found some that was listed as pharmaceutical grade (£4.50 for 250ml) and I have been using that in my ears for a couple of weeks now.

I alternate which ear I treat each day. If skin needs to breath and if mineral oil stops that then I think it's best to leave some time between treatments. The main thing I have noticed is what great condition the skin in my ears is in. The painful crack that I had in one ear never fully healed until I started using the mineral oil. Having a benign alternative to olive oil is such a relief.

http://caloriesperpence.com/earwax-excema-and-oils/421bd827-3d06-4811-8760-88cc4cab9dc8Sat, 10 Feb 2018 10:29:28 GMT
<![CDATA[Meditation: Labelling motivation]]>I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for about 11 years. For most of that time, I would say that my principal experience of meditation has been long stretches of mind-wandering, book-ended by a breath or three of awareness of having wandered and of thinking of another engaging subject. In the training that was my introduction to mindfulness, one of the teachers said, "When you see the thought train coming, you have a choice about whether to get on board." Since I have learned to stop punishing myself for being unmindful, I have generally decided to climb aboard.

I recognised that this was not an ideal way to meditate. I wondered whether it really was meditating. Was I training my mind to wander? Or was this experience just a reflection of the way my brain already worked? Was I helping or harming myself? I experimented with going a week without meditating. I noticed that I experienced a loss of equanimity. I became more sensitive to other people's agendas and less sensitive to my own needs. This was easily enough motivation to keep meditating.

In my introductory training, one suggestion was thought-labelling. Sometimes classifying a thought or a feeling can promote insight or help make the experience more manageable. Humans are natural classifiers. The downside of this habit is that rich perceptions may be replaced with simple symbols thereby denying us access to our complete experience.

I avoided labelling at first, purely out of fear of over-thinking my classifications. I easily imagined getting sucked into the kind of intellectual exercise that geeks may recognise of optimising the hierarchy of folders on their computer. Despite this, I used some online meditations that explicitly included this technique and I ended up trying it with varying results.

Yesterday two things happened that interacted and then informed the way I meditated today. First, I was working on an assignment for a life coaching qualification. The particular question mentioned energy levels changing through the day, which reminded me that we cannot spend all our time in productivity-focussed activities. As Paul Gilbert mentions in The Compassionate Mind, we need time when our threat-avoiding and reward-seeking systems power down and give our parasympathetic nervous system some space to do its thing, for instance, by relaxing with friends, or meditating.

The second thing that happened was that I watched episode 11 of The Good Place. * Possible Spoiler Alert * In this episode, the main character realises that she will never qualify for residence in the good place, because all her good deeds are motivated by the desire to be there and are therefore selfish. All her actions are motivated by reward-seeking.

During my meditation this morning, thoughts about these two things were swirling around my head and it occurred to me that I had never tried labelling my thoughts as reward-seeking or threat-avoiding. I tried it. I also tried labelling feelings in similar ways.

In the past I had tried labelling the "what" of my experience (planning, irritation, replaying) but not the "why". Labelling base motivations was very useful for me. Lots of pieces of my experience were ambiguous and I chose to go with the first label that presented itself. Looking back, I notice that these labels did not obscure my experience, but they did give me reasons I cared about to be present. I listened to the bell signalling the end of my meditation and I continued to sit, noticing my experience for many minutes, rather than opening my eyes, reaching for my spectacles and mentally ticking off another chore.

It may be that this is a one-off, that I will not notice any benefit from this learning when I sit and close my eyes tomorrow. That's okay, although I would feel sad about it. Just in case, I decided to record my learning immediately while I am full of enthusiasm and in the knowledge that it may help someone else more than it helps me.


My initial training was the Mindfulness for Stress course delivered by Breathworks. I feel immensely grateful for having had such a comprehensive introduction to mindfulness practice.

The online guided meditations that I tried and had some success with were by headspace.com. Headspace is a pay-for service with a great variety of types of mindfulness meditation. I found that variety useful for a couple of years. You can also find guided meditations by many other people online and in app stores that are free.

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert is about how our thinking minds add stress to our lives and how self-compassion can be a counter-balance to that. I found his description of our emotional regulation fascinating. For actually practicing self-compassion, I preferred The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer. Both are available to order through your local bookshop and many other places.

http://caloriesperpence.com/meditation-labelling-motivation/d4cabf5c-02b9-459c-80b8-061da892cbfaWed, 08 Nov 2017 11:31:07 GMT
<![CDATA[Boarder, what do you weigh?]]>When choosing a snowboard, whether for hire or purchase, your weight is a really important factor.

I had trouble when I was learning to snowboard. Mainly my trouble was that I carved without trying. I actually found it difficult to make skidded turns. Even though I've since learned all the bits of information to figure out why this happened, it didn't come together for me until I read this answer on Quora:


I am a fairly average height (for males of my generation.) I am 5'9". But I only weigh 9 stone, which is not typical at all.

The effective flex of a board is proportional to rider weight: A board will flex more under a heavy rider than the same board under a light rider. With me being so light, the hire boards I used were effectively pretty stiff for a beginner, and I tended to carve without even trying.

A sign of the difficulty I had was that I dreaded narrow pistes. Carving turns take up a lot of room and they don't slow you down much. My choice was to get faster and faster or repeatedly use the whole width of the piste to turn, making it very difficult for anyone to pass me.

The first board I bought, even though it was shorter than the hire boards I'd used, was really stiff. A 155cm Ride DH2.4 (with very cool graphics.) I had no real idea what I was buying and had no opportunity to try it first. By then I'd adjusted to a world where carving was the norm, so I wasn't surprised by the experience of using my new board.

Last week I bought a 154cm Lib Tech TRS and rode it for the first time. I loved how playful the board was but I was disgruntled by how difficult it was to carve and how easily I bled speed. I thought I was buying a carving machine and it probably would be for some who weighed a stone less than me. Since then, the penny has dropped. I realise that I now own the board that would have been ideal for me to learn on.

http://caloriesperpence.com/boarder-what-do-you-weigh/bdded53a-fba7-483c-810e-b85c2656a420Sun, 10 Sep 2017 21:15:09 GMT
<![CDATA[Links to Openworks projects]]>The Openworks was a collaboration between Participatory City, Lambeth Council and others. I was looking for the web presence of the projects that came out of Openworks and decided to record them here.

The Openworks website seems to have expired. The Facebook and Twitter accounts still exist although they have not been updated since the project ended in 2015.

001 Trade School
002 The Great Cook (Eventbrite)
003 Potluck Suppers
004 Start Here
005 BeamBlock
006 Bzz Garage (Facebook, Twitter)
007 Library of Things
008 The Joinery
009 Festival of Ideas (blog post on council website)
010 Open Orchard
011 Rock Paper Scissors
012 The Stitch
013 Out in the Open (PDF)
014 Civic Incuabator
015 Play Works
016 Play Streets (council guide)
017 Department of Tinkerers (flyer)
018 Collaborative Childcare
019 Public Office (Facebook, Twitter)
020 West Norwood Soup (Grub club)

http://caloriesperpence.com/links-to-openworks-projects/cc927651-b316-47f9-a412-042ae832414bWed, 07 Jun 2017 13:05:53 GMT
<![CDATA[The best fitting snowboard boots, ever?]]>I have very narrow and low-volume feet and find it very difficult to find footwear that fits well. This article is about my quest to find a pair of snowboard boots with a good fit. I live in the UK and many of the people and businesses I mention are in the UK. The technologies I mention are, of course, more widely available than that.

Tl;dr: I had custom foam liners fitted by Pete at Anything Technical in Kendal. They suit me very well. YMMV. I mention other options.

The first thing I did after I completed a beginner's snowboarding course and knew that I wanted to do more, was to buy a pair of snowboard boots. The hire boots were like a pair of paddling pools strapped to my feet. I wanted more control and less chance of injury.

The only snowboard boots that come close to fitting me are Salomon's regular fit boots. (They also have a wide fit in many models.) If I have to be stuck with one brand then I'm told that I'm lucky that it is Salomon. Apparently their liners take a lot longer to "pack out" than some brands.

Even so, in any off-the-shelf snowboard boots, my foot has lots of side-to-side movement and I can easily roll my foot outwards if I try. I didn't notice this much when I was a new intermediate but as I progressed I started to feel limited by inconsistent control and risk of injury. My worst crash was the first time that I hit a flat section at high speed. Without a slope to force my feet into the uphill side of the boot, I lost all feeling of control.

Despite my skinny feet, heel lift has not been a problem for me. I guess my heel and ankle mesh well with the aggressive shape of many snowboard boot liners. Despite this, a few years ago, I tried using a heel-hold kit in the hope that it might reduce side-to-side movement. It didn't seem to have much effect on foot movement but I did notice that my feet felt colder. I worried that I might be losing some blood supply and removed the kit.

Last year, I found the Tögnar Toolworks boot-fitting products page. I considered buying some of their fitting products and trying to customise my boots. I love messing with technical things (bicycle repair, binding setup) but I also have a habit of buying the bits for exciting "projects" and then seeing those bits sitting on a shelf for the next year. I knew that modifying my boots would be a trial and error process (it's not like I can see inside the boots once I strap them on) so I didn't trust myself to finish this particular project.

I decided to look for a professional. I found that there are organisations like Masterfit University that train people to be ski-boot fitters. Training can include a snowboard-boot-specific module. I contacted a few fitters but none of them sounded enthusiastic. One of them even told me that, "No one custom fits snowboard boots. There's no market for it."

Despite this, I eventually found Coyoti in South Wales. I spoke to the manager who was the first person I had talked to who had a real interest in customising the fit of snowboard boots. The first thing he did was check whether I'd bought a pair of boots on the internet that were just too big for me. Apparently that's common when purchasing snowboard boots. Reassured that I did have the best-fitting boots I could find, he explained to me how foam pieces could be shaped and attached to the outside of the boot liner to modify the fit. I was very tempted to drop by next time I visited my family in Wales. The only thing that worried me was that it was a long way to return if I found out later that the fit was not quite right.

I've been very lucky in the last few years. Through a series of fortunate events, I acquired a pair of walking-boot lasts made by Altberg. They were a very close match for my feet and for the first time in my adult life I owned some footwear that actually fit. This gave me an idea: Could someone make me a bespoke pair of snowboard boots from the walking boot lasts? I decided to email a few people about this.

The first reply I got was from DOUK. (They hand make snowboards in the UK! And they offer a custom graphics option!) Unfortunately, they didn't know anyone who made snowboard boots in the UK. When I thought about it, I realised that any company in Western Europe would probably put its snowboard boot production in a cheaper part of the world.

The second reply came from Steven Hankin at Glide & Slide in West Yorkshire. I had contacted Steven because Glide & Slide are the only UK importers of Strolz custom ski boots. Steven had an alternative idea. He had previously fitted a custom foam-liner in a pair of snowboard boots for a customer who had flown over from Poland for the fitting.

I had not heard about this kind of liner. It is often fitted in ski boots. A liquid foam is injected into the liner, which expands to fill the space between the boot shell and the foot. The foam then sets. It sounds like no other method could compare for getting perfect boot fit. The problem with doing this in most snowboard boots is that they are much softer than ski boots and would be warped by the high pressure of the expanding foam. Steven solved this by bagging and then duct-taping his customer's boots so that they could not stretch.

This sounded like a brilliant solution to me; a way to get a perfect fit with zero trial-and-error. If I was going to go to this expense then I decided I would get a new pair of boots. I didn't want to risk my boots reaching the end of their life soon after getting the liner fitted, so I went to the Snow and Rock shop in Chill Factore where I had bought my 2010 Salomon Savage boots.

Andy Ferrari in Snow and Rock was extremely helpful. I told him what I intended to do with the boots. He was particularly impressed that Steven planned to use an articulated liner like those used in alpine touring ski boots, so the liner would not add to the stiffness of the boot at all. Even so, Andy recommended that I talk to Solutions4Feet in Oxfordshire. He felt that if anyone had experience of fitting custom foam liners in snowboard boots, it would be them.

I did speak to someone at Solutions4Feet. They had seen multiple disasters from people attempting to fit custom foam liners in snowboard boots. They recommended using a low pressure system like BootDoc and said that if I could get hold of them in the UK then they would fit them for me but with no guarantee of success.

I had a look at the BootDoc liners online and saw that the manufacturer was marketing them for snowboard boots, which was very reassuring. I looked for a UK seller. Sports Direct were selling BootDoc liners very cheaply in a small selection of sizes but I read on a forum that the liners they were selling were many years old. The foaming chemicals would have degraded and become useless. I emailed Sports Direct to ask about this but they never replied.

I needed some help to find a UK seller of BootDoc liners so I emailed the Austrian manufacturer. They eventually put me in touch with Pete at Anything Technical in Kendal. He said that I could buy a liner from him and he would fit it at no extra cost. That sounded like an offer I could not refuse. I sent Pete my new boots (2017 Salomon Dialogue) so that he could be certain of ordering the liner with the most appropriate length and width. A few weeks later, I headed up to Kendal for the boot fitting. I was ridiculously excited about the prospect of having snowboard boots that would fit me well.

The BootDoc liner next to the shell of my 2017 Salomon Dialogue boot, before fitting.
The BootDoc liner next to the shell of my 2017 Salomon Dialogue boot, before fitting.

The first thing Pete did was to make custom footbeds for me. I have over-pronating feet and I had been using off-the-shelf Superfeet insoles, but I didn't feel like they offered enough support. A foam liner will mould around the footbed as well as the foot, so if you're having a foam liner fitted then you will need to make any decisions about footbeds first. Once the footbeds were made, the boot-fitting process started.

Pete, inserting the custom footbed into the liner.
Pete, inserting the custom footbed into the liner.

Pete applied some foam pads to my feet where the bones were most prominent, and also over the toes. These pads would give me a little bit of room at the points where a too-tight liner would be most uncomfortable. We had a chat about the fact that foam liners are available for home fitting and I was glad that I hadn't gone down that route. The liners are a single-use tool. If you forget anything before injecting the foam then you either need to find a way to modify the liners afterwards, or else buy another pair.

My skinny, skinny feet; padded, socked, bagged and wearing one of the liners.
My skinny, skinny feet; padded, socked, bagged and wearing one of the liners.

With the pads on, next came socks, plastic bags (in case of a foam leak, I assume), the empty liners with their injection tubes, and finally my boots. At this point the boot laces were left loose. Pete had me stand on a slope with my toes pointing uphill. This forced my heels to the back of the boots and pushed me a little bit in to a snowboarding stance. The two-part foam was then mixed together and injected into the liners and Pete had me move my knees in a circular motion in order to encourage the foam to flow all round my feet. I could feel my feet heating up from the exothermic reaction in the foam. At this point, the boot laces were tightened and we just had to wait for the foam to do its thing.

Injecting the foam: The foam in the left boot has already fully expanded. The right one is catching up.
Injecting the foam: The foam in the left boot has already fully expanded. The right one is catching up.

When Steven at Glide & Slide had told me about how he fitted a high-pressure foam liner, I had worried about what effect it would have on the boots. He uses a strong tape to stop the boot material from stretching, but even without the material stretching I worried that the pressure would force the boots into a more spherical shape. The BootDoc liners are marketed for snowboard boots so I assumed that they would have a very low pressure and that shape change would not be an issue. I was wrong.

Looking down at my feet, I saw that the first boot to have foam injected became noticeably wider than the other boot. This fattening happened midway between the heel and toe. I assume this is where the most room for shape change is. I was glad I had expected something like this otherwise I might have been worried. I decided to ignore it for now. Both boots expanded in the same way.

After a while, the foam set. I took off the boots, bags, socks and foam pads. Then, with my own socks, I put my newly custom-fitted boots (so exciting!) back on, strapped on my board, and had a play. This was a world away from my previous experience of snowboard boots. Almost every part of my foot felt in contact with a surface. Only my toes had some wiggle room. I tipped the board from edge to edge and from end to end and felt that I had just got a big increase in control. I couldn't wait to try this out on some snow.

Pete warned me that my new footbeds would change my stance. I spent a couple of hours in Chill Factore riding and tweaking my setup. And then I went on holiday to Vallorcine in the Chamonix Valley.

The first snowboard lessons that had really worked for me were from British instructors. I think of this style of snowboarding as "pushing edges" because the emphasis was on how much edge pressure to apply and keeping shoulders parallel to the board. This is the style I usually revert to at the beginning of each holiday. In this mode, I was a bit worried about my new boots.

The foam-filled part of the liner stopped more than an inch below the lip of the boot. I felt like there was a bit of a "dead zone" when I swapped from edge to edge. This would be less dramatic for someone less skinny than me but, no matter how tight I made my upper boot laces, I had a feeling of losing contact in the transition. Distracted by this, it took me a while to realise that almost everything else was better than I'd had before. Hitting a flat section at speed no longer felt scarily dangerous. I felt like I had a lot more control.

The liner inside the boot shell: The lower, dark section of the liner is foam filled. The upper, silver section is just lightly padded.
The liner inside the boot shell: The lower, dark section of the liner is foam filled. The upper, silver section is just lightly padded.

Later in the holiday, I had a lesson. Like most instructors in the Alps, Christophe paid a lot of attention to my upper body movement. Using this to fine-control my turning changed my experience of my new boots. The edge transition stopped being something that I noticed through my calves as I focused on more of my body for control. Revising this technique was very rewarding and also reassuring.

There were a couple of problems that felt trivial. I would occasionally notice some heel lift. This was a new thing for me. It did not seem to interfere with my control and it was rare, so I assume that technique was a factor. Also, there was a design flaw in the liner's detachable tongue: Some velcro was in contact with my sock. In order to stop my sock from being chewed up, I covered up the exposed velcro. I used a sticky blister-protection strip, which was stiff enough not to fold up when I pushed my foot in. Job done.

The tongue of the liner: My quick hack to stop some exposed velcro from chewing up my socks.
The tongue of the liner: My quick hack to stop some exposed velcro from chewing up my socks.

My confidence increased and black runs felt manageable to me for the first time. Other things had changed since the previous holiday (I was more confident because of personal-development work, this was my first 2 week snowboarding holiday, etc) so I don't know how much of my improvement was due to the boots. They were definitely a factor though.

I am really happy with my boots now. I do wish the foam-filled section extended further up my calves, but it would take a lot of selling for me to switch to any other solution. If my boots wear out before climate change kills snowboarding in the Alps then I absolutely see myself going back to Kendal for another pair.

http://caloriesperpence.com/the-best-fitting-snowboard-boots-ever/16c3eb2c-a174-4995-b940-c7f4752a34dfSat, 01 Apr 2017 15:36:34 GMT
<![CDATA[Helikon Tex M65 Trousers]]>The M65 trousers were part of a cold weather clothing system that came in to use by the U.S. military during the 1960s. Clothing made to the same set of patterns is still produced by many companies. The most well known item is probably the M65 jacket made by Alpha Industries. Helikon Tex make an M65 jacket too.

The various clothing made now and labelled M65 is made in several different materials including cotton, polycotton and nyco. Nyco is 50:50 nylon:cotton and was used in the original M65 clothing with a sateen weave. This combination of yarn and weave makes reasonably breathable, windproof and thorn-proof clothing.

Helikon Tex is a Polish company making contemporary and "surplus" military clothing. They also have product lines aimed at outdoors ethusiasts and law enforcement personel.

I bought my Helikon Tex M65 trousers in November 2014 at the recommendation of a friend. Since then, I have worn them more often by far than any other long trousers. Obviously, I think they are worthy of a review.

Helikon Tex M65 trousers, black, half-profile


As I said, the original material for these trousers was nyco, and that is what Hilikon Tex use. I searched Helikon's website for mention of "sateen" but the only hits I got were in PDF catalogues from 2010 to 2013. Are they still using sateen weave for their nyco clothing? I don't know. How much difference does this make? I don't know that either.

The trouser fabric feels rugged without feeling harsh. When temperatures are approaching mild and I still want protection from wind, undergrowth or showers, I am comfortable wearing my M65s without underwear.

I travel by bicycle almost every day so these trousers are in constant use in Winter and, after two years, I still cannot see any wear in their seat.

Freedom of movement

Even for "combats" the M65s are a loose cut. This is not surprising. As part of a 1960s cold weather system, they were designed so that a relatively thick thermal-liner could be buttoned into them. The Helikon Tex version has the buttons required to fix that liner in place. I haven't found a thermal liner in my size but I have used my M65s as an overtrouser over an old pair of snowboard trousers. It's a convenient way to add lots of pockets while snowboarding. If you get used to M65s then you might find other combats a little restrictive.

The flip-side of this generous cut is that the trousers look somewhat shapeless compared to many other combats. I own a pair of Helikon's "SFU Next" and they have a more streamlined shape than the M65s, with the obvious trade-offs.

Helikon Tex M65 trousers, black, front


There are 6 pockets accessible from outside and a buttoned watch pocket inside the waistband. The front and back pockets are made of a lighter-weight material. I assume they are cotton. This kind of pocket is often the first thing to go in a pair of trousers that I wear a lot but there is no sign of that yet.

The thigh pockets are made of the main fabric sewn on to the trouser leg. They are not the shape I'm used to seeing on combats where there is a bellow around the whole edge, instead, they concertina from the centre and the rear-facing edge of the pocket, bulging out more there when they are full.

Inside the thigh pockets are some strings of fabric that can be threaded out through a hole in the rear-facing edge of the pocket and tied through the skinny pieces of webbing under the crotch. This pulls in the baggy material of the legs and (apparently) makes it easier to run while the thigh pockets are heavily-loaded. (I have not tried this.) I assume that this feature was the inspiration for the fashion some years ago for strings of fabric hanging from women's "cargo" trousers.

All the pockets that are accessible from outside are secured with metal press-studs. I leave them all open except for the studs at the rear edge of the thigh pockets. I find this is secure enough for me. I have never inverted while wearing these trousers.

Cuff adjusters

Sewn in to each ankle cuff is something like a round shoelace. They seem to be fixed to the trouser so that they cannot be accidentally pulled out. This is reassuring. I've seen cosmetically-similar adjusters pulled out of the waistbands and hoods of tops.

The cuffs can be pulled in and then each "shoelace" tied to fix the narrower width of the cuff. This is a great way of ensuring that the cuff cannot slip down under the heel of your shoe. I love this. The adjusters will not stay tied forever. Neither would a shoelace. I find that I retie the adjusters once a week or less, so that's fine by me.

Helikon Tex M65 trousers, black, back

Other features

The trousers have a YKK zip fly. The zip has a fairly bulky piece of fabric tied to it, presumably to make it easier to grab wih gloved hands. This piece of fabric is obviously trivial to permanently remove. You might find that it gets in the way of pissing while standing.

There are a pair of waist adjusters, one on either side of the waistband. They look and feel like they are made of cotton webbing. They are threaded through a metal length-adjuster which, I find, fails to hold the webbing securely. They may be useful for someone else. I have decided they are cosmetic.

As you would expect, there are also belt loops.

In use

The fabric is sufficiently windproof that I would not choose to wear anything else for Winter walking and commuting by bicycle.

The trousers will shrug off a short shower. If I let them get properly wet and then have to sit still then, unsuprisingly, they take longer to dry than a lightweight pair of cotton cargo trousers. I'm not sure how long they take to dry while I'm moving because I don't really notice that they are wet then.

They are breathable enough (and baggy enough) that if I work up a bit of sweat then I don't notice it on my legs.

Overall impression

I love these trousers. They are my day-to-day wear in the Winter. They only see a lot shelf time when it is warm enough for me to switch to shorts. If I wear any other long trousers then it is for aesthetic reasons only.

http://caloriesperpence.com/helikon-tex-m65-trousers/bd4aff4b-193b-4608-9a33-4a34cbee3e9aMon, 26 Dec 2016 16:09:39 GMT
<![CDATA[Greater Manchester Fossil Fuel Divestment]]>I think the my email below says it all really.

Re consultation on the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF)'s draft Statement of Investment Principles:

I am deeply concerned about the lacklustre response from commercial and political corners with regard to the (now well understood and frequently explained) dangers of climate change due to the use of fossil fuels. The most powerful way to push investment to cleaner technologies is to show the markets that fossil fuels are no longer a desirable investment choice. The redrafting of the GMPF's Statement of Investment Principles is a valuable opportunity to add momentum to this movement away from fossil fuels.

At the moment, divestment from fossil fuel investments lags far behind our knowledge of the dangers of making investment available to this sector. The GMPF is the biggest local authority pension fund in the country and its divestment from fossil fuels would send a clear and vital message to the markets that change is needed now.

Please do not pass up this opportunity to make a huge contribution to a movement that will benefit billions of people, including ourselves, now and in the coming decades. The short-term profit-focus of the markets has a stranglehold on the direction of our technological innovation at this extremely delicate juncture in our history and it is only through the actions of powerful interests like the GMPF that we stand a chance of preventing disruptive and destructive climate change.

As much as I welcome last year's decision to divest from tobacco companies, no one can deny that this change lagged far behind the knowledge of the damage that tobacco companies are responsible for. Now the GMPF has the chance to be a leader and an exemplar in averting a far greater threat.

I ask the GMPF to:

  1. Amend the draft Statement of Investment Principles to include a principle that the Fund will actively choose to invest in and divest from companies based on social, ethical and environmental considerations.

  2. Divest from fossil fuel companies because of their impact on people and the environment, and the financial risk to pension scheme members.

  3. Invest in positive alternatives such as renewables and energy efficiency in Greater Manchester, which will help tackle climate change and create jobs for local people.

http://caloriesperpence.com/greater-manchester-fossil-fuel-divestment/d64ef4d6-7daa-4a29-9b9c-cd5da6847c76Wed, 02 Sep 2015 09:31:28 GMT
<![CDATA[How to get that Burley fireball]]>If you have a Burley wood-burning stove then you know how impressive it can look when it's properly roaring. That makes it all the more frustrating if you have difficulty making it start to draw. After a lot of experimentation, I found that I could get a roaring fire more quickly than Burley's instructions indicated.

(tl;dr Keep a greater depth of ash. Don't have enough ash yet? Then read on.)

If you don't want the back-story or the analysis then you can skip straight to the how-to section.

Back story

When we were making decisions about getting our first wood-burning stove, I became fixated on the efficiency figures (geek!) for the various models and that's one reason that we decided on the Burley Debdale stove. Its understated, clean look helped a lot too.

We asked two installers for quotes. The first installer tried to dissuade us from our choice of stove, telling us about the difficulty he had lighting a Burley after installing it for a customer. I arrogantly assumed that he had been coddled by the use of less efficient stoves and that my inner pyromaniac would rise to the occasion and triumph over the Birley.

We went ahead and had the stove installed and, to my chagrin, I did indeed find it hard to light and keep lit. I often needed to leave the door ajar for a very long time and felt embarrassed on several occasions when I shut the door and the fire went out. Comments from my partner (who regretted allowing me to persuade her to buy the Burley) left me feeling awkward and somewhat guilty. After all, a quality wood-burning stove and its installation are not cheap purchases.

I assumed there was sonething about wood-burning stoves that I did not understand, so I tried to research diligently, but the internet was not forthcoming on insights. I experimented with different fire-building approaches, trying different layerings of materials, different thicknesses of kindling and adding cardboard where I had used paper. I kept thinking I'd found the thing that made the difference but the next time the fire would behave differently and I would realise it had been a fluke.

Thankfully, that came to an end.


I noticed that coal-burning stoves have a grate and the air is drawn up through the various materials. This means that there is a constant airflow upwards through the bottom-most part of the fire.

In the Burley wood-burning stoves (unless you add the optional coal grate), the air enters the burning chamber through holes in the side. These holes are about 4 inches above the floor of the chamber.

A pair of air holes in the chamber wall of the Birley Debdale

You can think of the holes as being in two sets. The first set is along the front wall. This is presumably why Birley encourage you to drag burning embers to the front and add wood at the back.

The second set of holes is in each corner and those holes create an anti-clockwise vortex of air. This is what creates the "Birley fireball".

Birley wood-burning stove air circulation

How to

Inspired by coal-burning grates, and wanting to prove that I could make this work without buying one for the Birley, I improvised something to make sure that air could get under any burning material.

I used three pieces of waste wood stood on edge and running from the front to the back of the stove. I forced them down through the ash to the base in order to make sure that they would stand firm with the weight of the rest of the paper and wood on top of them. I also made sure they were a few centimitres shorter than the depth of the chamber in the hope that the vortex could move around the outside of them.

Three-piece wood fire base

The pieces of wood were each about 2.75 inches wide.

Example piece of wood about 2.75 inches wide

Using this fire base, I found I could close the door completely in five minutes and half close the air intake after another 5 minutes. This was considerably less faff than I had been used to!

I chose to run the wood front to back in order to allow the front air holes to push air under the fire. It turned out that this was unnecessary. I tried using just two pieces of wood from left to right and that worked just as well.

Two-piece wood fire base

Finally, I just tried using a flat-topped piece of firewood with space around it on all sides and that worked just as well again.

Single-piece wood fire base

As long as the wood gave a stable flat surface for the rest of the fire materials, it didn't seem to matter whether the air could get underneath. The piece of firewood on the left in the photo below is the fire base used in the previous photo.

Wood used for fire base

Of course, after eliminating my theory about air having to get under the burning materials, I then realised (while writing this blog post) that I probably didn't leave sufficient depth of ash in the fire. Birley do say that ash build up is necessary.

I you move the ash around then it can compact quite easily and, of course, you don't have any ash in the fire when you first use it, so on these occasions I hope my tips will still help you.

http://caloriesperpence.com/how-to-get-that-burley-fireball/96f6e578-6c4f-4f90-b92b-4f29d2a9f547Sun, 03 May 2015 14:26:23 GMT
<![CDATA[What is mindfulness?]]>A few days ago, many people on the interwebs were incensed by a journalist who wrote about mindfulness without understanding what mindfulness actually is. I'm told the comments on the online article were, for once, actually worth reading. I haven't looked at the article (or its comments) as I don't want to directly address any particular person's understanding of mindfulness. This incident has, however, made me think about what mindfulness is and (being a geek) made me wonder whether I could formulate a satisfying definition.

Mindfulness is noticing

This seems to be the core part of mindfulness to me. If you noticed everything that was happening within reach of your senses and within your thoughts and emotions, right now, then I don't think anyone could deny that you were being mindful.

The kind of noticing I just described feels far beyond my reach. I assume that's because I am human and tend to focus on a small part of my experience. One of the parts of mindfulness that I'm (always) learning is the noticing of my reactions to what I'm noticing. When this is the part of my experience that I don't notice, I tend to be "carried away" by my thoughts and emotions and it can be a while before I start noticing anything again.

Mindfulness may include adding to our experience

Some mindfulness techniques use visualisations. Visualisations are one way of directing our attention mindfully. Visualisations may involve deliberately bringing another person to mind, or a quality like softness or light. Adding these things to our experience may allow us to notice things that are normally obscured by our habits of thought and feeling. This can broaden our awareness and help us to cultivate characteristics that we want to develop, like empathy, clarity or calmness.

Mindfulness does not take away from our experience

We may direct our attention while practising mindfulness. What we do not do is try to suppress any part of our experience. Our motivation for practising mindfulness may include a desire for greater peace of mind. It can be tempting to induce silence by ignoring or pushing away parts of our experience (our troubling thoughts, the pain in our body) but doing this introduces a new tension: It adds a constant effort to our experience and may induce a fear that our efforts may fail.

Mindfulness is acceptance

Strong emotions, and the thoughts that come with them, are powerful competitors for our attention. In addition we can feel very strongly about our emotions, for example, "I shouldn't be sad. I have so much to be grateful for," or, "Their actions have made me angry. It's outrageous that I should have to feel this way." A technique for reducing the tendency of this part our experience to dominate is to cultivate acceptance.

Acceptance is the acknowledgement that we are human and that we experience in a human way. It enables us to say things like, "I am angry. That is part of my experience," rather than, "I am angry and that is a terrible thing." Cultivating acceptance allows us to broaden our attention, our noticing, beyond the most powerful stimulus in our awareness. And it can give us the perspective we need to change those things in our lives that cause us unnecessary hardship.

http://caloriesperpence.com/what-is-mindfulness/a0652fa5-c83d-4d46-b9d1-19a56fb8b040Wed, 13 Aug 2014 10:00:04 GMT
<![CDATA[Space for Cycling]]>If you're aware about campaigns for better cycling infrastructure then you've probably heard about the national Space for Cycling campaign. If you're not aware of it, and if you have any interest at all in you or your family being able to safely get around by bicycle now and then rather than firing up the car for every little journey, then please take a look. The campaign is centred around a very sensible and coherent set of proposals.

I recently used the campaign site to write to my councillors. Unfortunately, I found the interface a bit surprising and accidentally sent the boilerplate email to each of them. I try to avoid doing this because, after they've seen 3 or 4 of these, I assume they just get filed in a folder for sending a boilerplate response to.

One of my councillors, Sheila Newman, sent me a response (which looked like boilerplate) but I'm still waiting for one from another councillor, Matt Strong. As he hadn't replied yet, I thought I'd take the chance to write another email and this time make it personal. I've pasted it in below.

Edit: Councillor Strong has replied now. His answer is pasted in below my email.

Hi Councillor Strong,

I've written to you about Space for Cycling before but haven't had a response yet. In case my earlier email just got lost in what (I hope) was an avalanche of support for the campaign, I'm writing again.

I'm a commuter cyclist and it's true that no matter what the current and subsequent councils do I am very likely to still use my bicycle as my primary means of transport.

That's not why I'm writing to you.

I'm writing to you because I meet Manchester residents who would like to ride a bike in our flat city, either because it would save them money, or (especially if they currently rely on public transport) it would save them time, or they just think that it would be a much nicer way to get around with their family, or they would like to instil healthy habits in their children, or they want a way to stay healthy themselves that would be easier to fit in to their lives than their dust-gathering gym membership, or they feel guilty about adding to the pollution which is making the air quality in Greater Manchester a real safety issue, or they would just like to see a lot less motor traffic in their neighbourhood.

But many of them never get as far as trying to cycle on the roads.

I would benefit a lot from better cycling infrastructure in Manchester but other people would benefit hugely more. If we make Manchester feel like a safe place for a child to cycle then we can make a positive difference to an awful lot of people. I'm sure you don't need me to list the benefits of greater physical and mental health and local shop revenues, as well as lower road maintenance costs and pollution levels and road collision fatalities.

Please support Space for Cycling in Manchester. Please focus on real outcomes rather than political tick-boxes.

Thanks for listening.

For more info see: http://www.gmcc.org.uk/space-for-cycling-policy-6-asks or email: contact@gmcc.org.uk

And here's the reply meat of the reply from Matt Strong:

I have had a number of emails from local residents about this issue. As somebody who rides a bike as well I am fully aware of some of the issues facing cyclists; I would like to see more Mancunians cycling, particularly on their commute to work. That would benefit individuals in terms of health and fitness but also society as a whole in our bid to cut carbon emissions. So I fully support the aims of the Space for Cycling campaign.

http://caloriesperpence.com/space-for-cycling/8e747aa2-5701-45b8-b786-6f5d25759fcfWed, 14 May 2014 13:27:28 GMT
<![CDATA[Mountain biking in Manchester]]>No, that's not "near Manchester". I mean actually in Manchester. Did you know about this? I didn't until this year when my OH bought me a mountain bike skills lesson at the National Cycling Centre (NCC). It was great fun!

I love cycling. I don't do a huge amount of it, but I would if I lived farther away from my work. Here's my faithful steed, a 24 year old rigid (i.e. no suspension) mountain bike.

Yep, those are BMX handlebars and they're there for a very good reason.

My first bicycle

When I started cycling in 2006, I bought a Trek hybrid bicycle from the very helpful people at Bicycle Doctor in Rusholme. Being a responsible bunch, they got me to ride it around for a while to make sure it fitted me well, and it seemed to. Unfortunately, half way home with my new purchase, I realised that my wrists were hurting pretty badly. I had done a ridiculous amount of computer use in my 20s and now I was paying for it.

Before finally resolving to take the bicycle back, I first tried to fit the holder for my D lock to the bicycle frame. In doing so I managed to scrape off one of the stickers, which made the bike look rather less than shiny and new, and not very returnable. When I did finally take the bike back, Rich (now co-owner of Keep Pedalling) went more than the extra mile to make sure that my bike's setup worked with my feeble body.

My second bicycle

Fast forward several years and a friend of mine had an original Kona Lava Dome that was hanging around in his hallway and looking shifty. Rather than risk it falling in to delinquency, he gave it to me. Before he handed it over, he decided to fit it with BMX handlebars to give a very adjustable (and potentially very upright) riding position. This worked a treat in keeping weight off my wrists and pretty soon I sold my Trek hybrid.

What about the mountain biking?

Oh yes, back to the plot!

Getting the Lava Dome peaked my interest in mountain biking but, as you might guess from the above, I felt my wrists probably couldn't cope with it and I didn't pursue it. Then, a few months ago, my OH saw a voucher online for the mountain bike skills taster at NCC. It was cheap (only £5.25 for adults living in Manchester!), only an hour long, and NCC provided a mountain bike, so how could I not try it?

I had a great time! As I got more confident I started flying off the outside of the banked turns (they're called berms) but Tom, the very helpful instructor, assured me that this was just because I was going too fast for my level of skill. (I need to work on choosing my line more carefully.)

The best news was that I didn't have any significant wrist pain. Navigating the course required frequent position shifting. I think I was pulling up on the handlebars as often as I was leaning on them. This seemed much more friendly to my wrists than the very static position I adopt while commuting.

What next?

Well, I am definitely going back for more. As well as the skills area, NCC have a set of four trails (green, blue, red and black) and all of these are free to use. As I don't yet have a mountain bike, I shall start by taking NCC's two hour lesson which uses some of those trails. They also do a whole weekend course.

Pretty soon I expect I'll find myself buying a mountain bike.

http://caloriesperpence.com/mountain-biking-in-manchester/0f373e4b-9128-45ab-ab6e-fb8edfb9c260Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:10:00 GMT
<![CDATA[Black Cats - what lovely people]]>I'm just back from a week of snowboarding in Tignes in the French Alps. This was my first snowboarding holiday where I really felt I was not a beginner. I pushed myself and my equipment until the cracks started to show and then tried to solve the problems that I found. It was a bumpy process (in at least two senses.)

If you read my last post about snowboarding then you know about my experiences as a beginner. This time round, I had some experience under my belt and was ready to attack some more ambitious (for me) runs.


I ran the motorway-wide red called "Double M" in Tignes. In the steepest part of the piste I was doing skidded turns, but for most of the run I was cruising along and carving. That meant that I got up to speeds significantly faster than I had before.

I've always found shallow slopes a bit tricky. I assumed this was because I'm usually travelling slowly on them and don't have the opportunity to lean in to the turns. When I hit the flat stretch at the end of Double M I was going as fast as I'd ever gone and, right at that moment, I found out that leaning in to my turns wasn't the solution. I tried switching edges but it felt like trying to put an old VW camper in to gear: Far too much wiggle room. I wiped out spectacularly.

Seeking help

After riding Double M again and getting some local advice, I took my board and myself to Black Cats in Val Claret. I discussed what was going on and (making a big mistake) said that I found there was big dead-zone while trying to switch from heel to toe edge at speed. The guy who served me worked way in to his lunch hour in order to fit me with the right pair of boots. I left with a very nice looking pair of Nikes that were much stiffer than my Salomon Savage boots and seemed to fit more snuggly at the sides of my skinny feet.

I was really buzzed about the new boots and headed of to Double M again. Oh boy. After running that piste twice, I realised that I was completely wrong in my diagnosis of what was happening. I had loads of left-to-right movement in my heels. When I was leaning hard in to a turn on the flat, it actually felt like my front leg wanted to snap to the side and, with the rim of the boot acting as a fulcrum, I got some pretty scary sensations in my knee.

I found that my old Salomon Savage boots actually had less "float" room than the new boots.

Returning prodigal

I went back to Black Cats. Needless to say, I was somewhat embarrassed on my return. Now that I had a better idea of what the problem was, I was very aware that I'd been asking about the wrong things.

The really helpful (different) shop assistant must have gone through a big chunk of their catalogue of boots. I tried on 8 or 9 pairs. Now that I knew to test for left-to-right movement at my heel, I strapped each boot in to a board in order to see how much movement I got. That varied from "some" to "a lot". Nothing was significantly better than my old boots.

Adding insult to injury, I then noticed that I'd injured my hand and had bled on at least one pair of new white laces as I was tightening up a boot. Already dispirited by my lack of success and the amount of shop time (and non-shop time) I'd taken up, I now wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.

On reflection

I left Black Cats with a full refund in my pocket and some newly acquired knowledge in my head about board-binding-boot stiffness and matching like-for-like. They were extremely nice to me and I would unhesitatingly recommend them.

As you can imagine, as soon as I got home I started researching boots that might actually fit my skinny ankles. It sounds like there are bits of tech specifically designed to lock down the heel. (J bars and internal harnesses and possibly other things.) Given the freakiness of my feet, I think I need to find the UK snowboard store with the biggest range of boots and visit them while their stock is at its peak. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

http://caloriesperpence.com/black-cats-what-lovely-people/fff47036-888e-4916-b650-efc85928e065Mon, 10 Mar 2014 16:20:27 GMT
<![CDATA[A beginners perspective on snowboarding]]>I love snowboarding. If anyone asks, I usually say I've been snowboarding since 2010. The truth is that I tried learning to snowboard 5 years before that and was so disheartened by the experience that I thought I'd given up. Even in the last few years I've sometimes been very demoralised. Maybe someone (beginner or teacher) can learn from my experiences.

Episode 1 - The edge menace

There seem to be two ways to teach beginners how to turn a snowboard:

  • Turn your upper body (usually by gesturing with your arms.)
  • Directly lean on your board edges.

My first ever teacher tried to get me to do the arm-waving technique. It wasn't a great success. I went shooting off all over the slope making much wider turns at greater speed than my fellow pupils. What I didn't realise was that (probably because I was nervous about how slowly I had been turning) I was leaning hard on my edges. I certainly sped things up, but not in the way I intended!

Edit: I now understand the difficulty I had making skidded turns: http://caloriesperpence.com/boarder-what-do-you-weigh/

That story might have ended happily if I'd been told what I was doing wrong, but as my teacher didn't seem to understand my control problem I ended the week exhausted and feeling like I'd learned nothing. Throwing myself down a hill on a piece of wood was not going to work for me, or so I thought.

Episode 2 - A new hope

Fast forward 5 years and one day my therapist says to me, "Justin, what do you do for fun?"

Well that stumped me, so on a whim I decided to go to Chill Factore in Trafford to learn to snowboard (again).


My teachers at Chill Factore were all about edges and as that was where I was coming from I was very happy indeed. Even better, I found out that I was an ambidextrous snowboarder. Things were looking good!

I put in about 50 hours at Chill Factore practising everything I learnt until I felt completely comfortable on that slope. When the season rolled round, I booked myself a holiday in Andorra. Whoop!

Episode 3 - Revenge of the setup

When I got to Andorra, tourists and reps who found out that "all" my boarding experience was indoors strongly advised me to take a group lesson to "get used to the mountain". For most of my life I'd been an anxious sort of guy and I took their advice to heart.

The first day was pretty awesome. I had a few spills on the disconcerting green slope (a sheet of ice with about 5 degrees of tilt) but as soon as we were out and about I felt great. I seemed to be one of the most confident boarders in this "intermediate" group and when the group was split because of high numbers I was put with the stronger boarders.

On day 2 everything went horribly wrong. The first thing we did was drop down a reasonably steep slope one by one. All we had to do was make a single turn while our teachers watched.

Bang! I totally wiped out.

Worst of all, I had no idea why I'd wiped out. (I'm always keen on understanding cause-effect. Hey, I'm a geek.)

From this point on things got pretty hairy: I dropped down to the less confident group; My ability to negotiate any slope started to feel completely random; I abandoned the idea that I was ambidextrous and stuck to regular as I'd started of a tad more confident on that leg; I hurt pretty badly by the end of the week and my body showed it.

What I discovered as the week went on was that my board setup wasn't great:

  • The nose was shorter than the tail (in regular)
  • The stance was narrow
  • The left highback was angled down and the right was vertical

If I'd understood all these things and their effects early on then I could probably have recovered but my rate of discovery couldn't keep pace with the collapse of my morale. By the end of the week I was a wreck.

Episode 4 - Return of the family

I didn't want my snowboarding to end there. When it was going well, it felt fantastic, and I wanted that back. I didn't have the confidence to do a second holiday on my own so I rounded up my family and a friend.

I'd bought my own board because I wanted total control over my equipment. I was really grateful for that and although I was only a little more confident at the end of the holiday than I was at the beginning, I'd had enough success to make me look forward to the next time.

Episode 5 - Teach strikes back

My next holiday was in ######, which is one of the best kept secrets ever. After a pretty good start, I worked up the courage to get a lesson and, disconcertingly, the teacher took me right back to the beginning with a bit of arm waving.

I can't remember what I was thinking while doing the ol' arm waving. On the one hand I'm pretty humble in the presence of an expert, but on the the other hand I can easily feel patronised. Whatever, it totally worked.

This guy spent as much time watching me as telling me what to do. I think I probably picked up the upper body movement more easily this time round because I knew all about edge use by now and knew that he wasn't asking for that.

Suddenly I had access to low speed turns like I'd never had before. I could control my speed on narrow, steep pistes far, far better than I could before that one lesson. I was so buzzed that I went looking for drops to practice turning slowly on.

The next lesson we went back to faster work and by the end of the week I was as confident as I'd been at the start of my week in Andorra. And significantly more skilled.

Episode 6 - Attack of the gratuitous episode title

Apologies to Star Wars fans for the mashed up episode titles. I didn't have the patience to figure out how to use them in the correct order. Feel free to make suggestions.

Mentally, I'm in a pretty good place with respect to snowboarding. I'm looking forward to my next holiday. I get excited when I think that I'll have an opportunity to attack a new set of slopes with confidence, decent hardware, and a modicum of skill. Wish me luck.

http://caloriesperpence.com/a-beginners-perspective-on-snowboarding/98d9d10f-a273-446c-91b5-77790193377dFri, 07 Feb 2014 16:35:11 GMT