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NEWS: Fort William Mountain Festival 2013 – Programme Announced

February 15, 2013

FortWiliam

Lochaber welcomes the snow and freezing temperatures head on as the Outdoor Capital of the UK launches the 2013 Fort William Mountain Festival programme, a four day mountain party packed full of inspiration and entertainment during the best winter walking and climbing conditions of the year.

 

The full programme for the 2013 Fort William Mountain Festival, presented by the Outdoor Capital of the UK, has been announced.  It has an impressive and diverse line up of inspirational speakers made up of top climbers, mountaineers and extreme sports men and women, together with adventure film screenings and mountain workshops. This year’s festival will be staged in and around the bustling Highland town of Fort William, in the heart of Lochaber, The Outdoor Capital of the UK,  from Thursday 21 to Sunday 24 February 2013.  

 

Mike Pescod, Chairman of the Highland Mountain Culture Association, organisers of the Festival, said: “The 2013 Fort William Mountain Festival is one of the most popular events in Scotland’s outdoor adventure calendar and everyone attending will be inspired, energized and entertained.

This year’s programme celebrates mountain culture in all its forms and promotes the mountains as an attractive, accessible and above all enjoyable place to be.  It includes a superb line up of top climbers and explorers, mountain films, inspirational speakers and skills workshops. It caters for a wide spectrum of enthusiasts from armchair adventurers to climbers and mountaineers to mountain bikers and budding wildlife photographers.”

The Fort William Mountain Festival programme includes:

 

Festival Launch Night – Wednesday 20/02/13 – The festival kicks off in action packed style at Nevis Range Mountain Experience, near Fort William.   The evening will begin with a torchlight descent spectacular as a range of local outdoor athletes on skis, bike and foot weave their way down Aonach Mhor.  This will be followed by a locally sourced and inspired four course meal, a preview screening of the festival competition films and live musical entertainment.

 

Bike Night – Thursday 21/02/13 – Kicking off the festival in style will be a full-on evening of mountain bike film action in the company of Chipps Chippendale (Singletrack Magazine), Rob Warner (Former pro dowhhill rider and mountain bike commentator) and Stu Thomson (Former pro downhill rider and mountain bike film maker – MTBCut); with compere Nigel Page (Former BMX and pro downhill rider, race team manager and commentator).  They will present their favourite bike films throughout the night and conduct an interactive and light hearted Q & A session.

 

British Mountain Guides Night – Thursday 21/02/13 – Three members of British Mountain Guides, the most qualified and experienced professionals to lead people in the mountains, will share their passion for climbing and mountaineering.  Andy Nelson lives in Glencoe where he has climbed extensively, putting up new routes at the highest standard. He will recount his experiences of Scottish winter climbing. Tim Neill, who has climbed widely in the UK, Ireland and throughout the world, will entertain the audience with his alpine climbing adventures.  Stu McAleese is one of the best alpinists currently operating from the UK, a true all-rounder.  He will focus his talk on some of the major expedition climbs he has been involved in including the ascent of Arctic Monkeys VI A4 V+ on Baffin Island that involved 18 consecutive nights on portaledges.

Antarctic Adventures Night with Karen Darke – ‘From the Paralympics to the Pole…’ and Felicity Aston – ‘Call of the White’ – Friday 22/02/13.  Karen Darke, a silver medallist in the hand-cycling Time Trial at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, has hand-cycled all over the world including Central Asia and the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the length of the Japanese archipelago.  She has co-organised sea kayaking expeditions along the coastlines of British Columbia and Alaska, a sit-skiing trip across the Greenland Icecap, climbing El Capitan and kayaking through the fjords of Patagonia. Karen will entertain the audience with stories of her adventures and the challenges of wheels in them before finishing with her plans for her next expedition to the South Pole.  In 2009 Felicity Aston lead a group of seven women from six different countries, representing six religions and seven languages, on a 900km trek from the south coast of Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole, in just 38 days. The team, many of them complete novices, had met only eight months before they set off.  Felicity will bring their incredible journey to life, not just the physical aspects but also what it took to transform these individuals into such a successful team. 

 

Climbing Night with Andy Cave – Saturday 23/02/13. Ben Nevis has been central in the history of Scottish winter mountaineering – the site of legendary new routes, incredible characters, unfailing passion and tragedy.  As a teenager Andy Cave, one of the greatest mountaineers of his generation who explores new routes in remote mountain ranges all over the world, had his first taste of mountaineering on the Ben.  In 2013 he returns with friends to examine the importance of Scottish Winter climbing and its impact on mountaineering throughout the world.   Packed with both humour and drama this entertaining lecture is a celebration of winter climbing through the prism of Ben Nevis; together with some freshly shot video of The Ben by award winning film maker Paul Diffley.  The 6th recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture will also be formally announced. 

 

The Best of Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour Film Night – Sunday 24/02/13 – Always a sell-out, this is your chance to see the best in award winning mountain films from around the world – extreme expeditions and challenges, remote cultures and the world’s last great wild places.  Don’t miss it!  

 

Winter Skills Workshops – There will also be plenty of opportunity for both novices and experts to hone their mountain skills through a series of workshops in avalanche awareness, winter walking and winter climbing with Abacus Mountaineering.  There is a one off Climbing Technique Master Class with local climber Dave MacLeod.  There will be mountain photography workshops with Nevispix and a two day outdoor emergency first aid course at the Snowgoose Mountain Centre.  Indoor climbing and ice climbing skills workshops will also be on offer at Kinlochleven’s Ice Factor Indoor Climbing Centre.  There is even a gaelic language workshop aimed at climbers, mountaineers and hillwalkers at theWest Highland College, UHI, entitled ‘Understanding our mountains through the Gaelic language’.

 

Mike Pescod added: “This celebration of mountain culture, showcasing the huge range of outdoor activity opportunities available to visitors to Fort William and Lochaber, one of Scotland’s  most stunning natural environments, is the vision of The Outdoor Capital of the UK, which is our presenting sponsor once again.”

 

To find out more about the Fort William Mountain Festival 2013 and to buy your festival tickets go to – www.mountainfestival.co.uk/

 

Film Competition – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fort-William-Mountain-Festival-Film-Competition/168830326527336

 

The Fort William Mountain Festival wish to thank the following sponsors and supporters – Outdoor Capital of the UK, Ellis Brigham, Marine Harvest, The Nevis Landscape Partnership, Hotscot, Cotswold Outdoor, Nevis Range, Alpine Bikes, Nevis Cycles, Tiso, John Muir Trust, Allround Signs, Abacus Mountaineering, The Granite House, No Fuss Events, Bill Scott Architects, Trailab, Nevispix and Active Highs.

REVIEW: Brasher Altai GTX 3 Season Boot

January 27, 2013

Dsc_0254

Brasher

Altai GTX

3 Season Boot

£135 (£98.00 online)

 

Again, here’s the Brasher blurb – “A lightweight yet tough and durable 3 Season trekking boot that will perform on rugged terrain during more challenging treks. Altai GTX has all the components to perform when the going gets tough! Key features include:

 

“Tough and durable 1.8-2.0mm abrasion resistant suede upper with fabric panels

Tri-Fit Technology for support, stability and comfort

Waterproof and breathable GORE-TEX®

Product Technology

Vibram Winkler sole unit for superb grip with dual density EVA midsole for excellent shock absorption and reduction in leg fatigue

Memory Foam in the collar for additional comfort

Added toe protection with a moulded rubber toe bumper”.

 

I really, really like these boots. They are strong, sturdy, yet immediately comfortable. They give good foot and ankle protection, were brilliantly waterproof, and contain everything you’d expect from this level of boot – Vibram, Gore-tex etc. I trialled them in all manner of terrains, from forest trails, snowy climbs, rocky descents, torrential mountain treks – and not once did they let me down, not once did I have wet feet, not once did they perform with anything except excellence.

 

I haven’t got anything bad to say about them. The box was a bit plain? So I won’t say anything bad about them at all. How could they be improved? A cheaper price? But then, you gets what you pays for, right?

 

92%

AR

 

Additional:

I’ve now been using these boots solidly for over a year, and they are fabulous. Strong, hard-wearing, never let me down. 95%. AR.

REVIEW: Corel Videostudio ProX5 Ultimate

January 27, 2013

Vid studio X5

Corel

Videostudio ProX5 Ultimate

£79.98

I confess, not only am I a bit of an adventure junkie, I’m also a vanity junkie. Which means taking lots of photos on bike rides and climbs, and, er, yes – filming myself in these pursuits. Some of the video footage I got on Ben Vorlich in Scotland, for example, makes one’s jaw drop… and also made me realise how important it is to take a camcorder on rides and climbs.

As with any other data, once you have your raw footage you need something with which to manipulate this data – enter stage left, Corel’s VideoStudio ProX5 Ultimate. Now I’m an old hand at editing, having been playing around with similar packages since about 1996 – so did Corel win my heart and my custom?

I’ve used quite a few packages over the years, on both MAC and PC. My previous software of choice on the PC has always been the Pinnacle range of video editing software, despite the (many) flaws. I started – way back – with Ulead Video Studio 4 – this was back in about 1997/1998, when I and a few mates were making comedy sketches (remember BAD BABY? probably not… and school promo films (we were teachers/ the horror)). Then I upgraded to Pinnacle Studio 9, then a few years later to Pinnacle Studio 11 Ultimate – which, if you can believe this, arrived with a mis-typed serial code. As it was my Christmas gift with which to edit footage of my kids opening their Christmas presents and stuffing turkey into their maws, I was best not impressed. I spent a fun morning trying to get it to work, and I can tell you here and now there’s no easier way to annoy a consumer than with such a basic simple sloppy error. Another year, another upgrade. I (foolishly) upgraded to Pinnacle Studio 14 in the hope it would alleviate the regular random crashes. I’d started making a series of short movies and it was a long and frustrating process. The problem with crashes on a reasonably long project is – well, where was I up to? Which changes had I made to the whole project? Thankfully, Pinnacle’s “recovery” software was quite good, although on some occasions did scramble my entire edited project meaning I had to start again. Grrrwwwww.

Upon purchasing a MAC, I thought I’d try Adobe’s Final Cut Pro, which every man and his donkey bangs on about, especially on film making forums and casting sites like Shooting People. Now, I did use this software quite a lot – mainly because I was being told it was the best. But you know what? I disagree. I used Adobe’s range of Creative Suite software, including After Effects – and yes, they are very, very powerful, but yes, they need a lot of hand holding and schooling. They’re just so not fluid. I found every stage of Adobe’s user interface just massively counter-intuitive. Maybe it’s me (it probably is me) but time after time Adobe software left me tearing my hair out. So, back to Pinnacle, beautiful to use, intuitive, powerful, and yet time after time it left me tearing my hair out – with multiple crashing projects and mangled editing. Argh! What was an amateur adventure film maker to do?

So then. Corel’s VideoStudio had a lot to live up to, and a lot to overcome. I am a picky SOB and have a wealth of experience with different packages. With video editing software, I am not an easy man to please.

First, here’s some official blurb to whet your appetite and introduce new features over the outgoing Pro X4 version…

“Corel® VideoStudio® Pro X5 is an all-in-one video editor that brings together creative editing, advanced effects, screen recording, interactive web video and total disc authoring. Ultra-fast and packed with intuitive tools, it lets you create everything from family movies and slideshows, to fun stop motion animations, and screen recordings of presentations, tutorials and more. Get creative with advanced compositing and stellar creative effects. Tap into the full power of your multi-core processor with unprecedented speed. And share everywhere with native HTML5 video support, and enhanced DVD and Blu-ray™ authoring.

 

Fast & easy HD video

Get started faster with Instant Projects and templates—and finish faster thanks to high-speed rendering and support for GPU and multi-core processing.

Advanced visual effects

Be more creative with 21 multimedia editing tracks, support for multi-layer graphics and advanced drag-and-drop visual effects.

Complete screen recording

Make a video featuring anything you do on your desktop, including slideshows, tutorials, product demos, game recordings, how-to videos and more.

Innovative sharing

Create interactive online video and quickly burn pro-quality discs, complete with menus, titles and transitions.

Outstanding value—hundreds of bonus effects, filters, transitions and templates! BONUS! SPECIAL EFFECTS VALUE PACK – Get the full power of VideoStudio Pro X5 plus these professional-quality special effects applications:

  • NewBlue® Video      Essentials
    20 high-end filters and effects
  • Boris Graffiti      5.4
    Template-driven, broadcast-quality titles and effects
  • proDAD Mercalli      SE
    Advanced image correction and rock-steady video stabilization
  • proDAD VitaScene      V2 LE
    100+ fully customizable, high-speed effects, transitions and filters
  • proDAD RotoPen
    Exclusive to      VideoStudio Pro X5 Ultimate!
    Apply animated pen effects to maps, graphics and photos
  • Free download! WinZip® Pro
    File compression, file sharing, file encryption and data backup.”

—–

Sounds good eh? Sounds too good to be true! So how was it?

Okay. Installation was a breeze, although the “Ultimate Pack” on Disk2 could have been a tad easier – with a 1 click installation, for example, as opposed to installing every separate item from the ultimate pack individually. A minor gripe, but in these busy lazy days of our mad rushed lives, every minute counts. It could have saved me a whole ten minutes! And I like my ten minutes. You can do a lot in ten minutes.

You are immediately presented with a locked set of windows (as opposed to Adobe’s bizarre many and varied floating tabs and bars and junk), and in a colour-set very pleasing to the eye and promising many hours of easy editing. Yeah. We’ll see.

First thing I did was drop some really old (well, 2002) .avi files in to see what it did. I confess, I was trying  to trip VSP5 up and crash it, or get some kind of error message. “I don’t understand that file”, that sort of thing. After all, I’d had them from every other package I’d ever used – especially Adobe. MACs are particularly anal about non-MAC file types. Anyway, VSP5 played them no problem. Aha! I’ll go older, then. So I dug out some old camera files, circa 1999 and 2000. MPGs these were. I dropped them in – and hot damn they worked! I dropped in some old 8mm transfer files, and it played them as well. There was no tripping up VSP5 and it had certainly covered its bases with encoding/decoding.

Moving forward a decade, I dropped in some AVCHD (Panasonic’s own) files – now I’d had many problems with these files on both Adobe and Pinnacle systems – but on VSP5 they played like a dream. And I wasn’t deleting these differing file types – just stacking them up in memory, like a house of cards, waiting for them to fail and fall. Next, I dropped in files from my Sony HDR. And every one worked like a dream. A mad mix of files from over a decade, a range of cams, all rendered at different FPS and sizes. Not once did VSP5 stumble or falter. Impressive.

I did some editing on mountain climbing films, including a video diary from when I climbed Ben Nevis, adding the usual sort of titling, splitting clips, splitting video and audio to add new layers of audio, adding effects to different sections and fading them together. I very much enjoyed playing with FX like old film grain (which in some programs can often look a bit… orange) and rotoscoping, which I absolutely love. Polar Express done on a budget. And without Tom Hanks! Result.

I spent a good day messing withVSP5, and my only niggle was I couldn’t find an indicator for real-time rendering – or an option to switch this facility on/off.  Although, saying that, everything was happily rendered in real time anyway, all effects applied without any loss whatsoever (on my 6-core Phenom running 64bit Win7, 8GIG DDR3 memory). Not sure how it would run on a Core2 Duo though!! So, at this point I picked up the manual…. which is surely a VERY GOOD THING. The software and UI is so intuitive I hadn’t even flicked through by this point. I found page 33 – rendering. That’s what the index said. But… Nope. So I logged onto the website www.corel.com. Couldn’t find anything there, either. So I hit Google, and again couldn’t find anything. Maybe it was just me being antiquated. What I did find was this comment on a forum post, which I think backs up what I’ve experienced over the last few years – “I use Corel Videostudio x4 too. I tried Adobe premiere pro and cyberlink’s Power Director. Adobe is to complicated and not all in one. PD is super fast rendering but crashed every 30 min. Seriously. Videostudio does all I need. I prefer burning AVCHD DVD5 discs. Higher quality than mp4 and cheaper. The video time is shorter but I’m not charging admission and making popcorn.  It took me some time to accept that a $50 software was actually better for my needs. I think it’s a perfect match for AVCHD prosumer camcorder editing and rendering. ”

So I stopped worrying about my niggle, banged through a sample copy to a DVD (16:9) quality file – which rendered pretty quickly, considering it was a 12min 36sec film filled chock wither FX and my PC was also running Word, Paint Shop Pro and Serif PagePlus at the same time. I do love multi-tasking.

What do I think overall, then?

Videostudio Pro X5 is an absolutely fabulous video editing program. It did everything I wanted, quickly, without fuss and WITHOUT CRASHING. I did have one moment when I got the dreaded “Not Responding” freeze, and thought “Oh yeah, here we go” but it was in fact the program simply letting me know it needed updating and would I like to do so? There’s a  fabulous range of effects, intuitive user interface (I didn’t use the manual at all, except for one look up), and it was just so slick and professional. Home computer video editing software has come a long, long way from its infancy, and yes, you can buy very expensive “industry” standard software from Adobe that requires a PhD to understand and operate. But most of us want to spend more time out biking and climbing and running – right? And when you take that film footage of Helvellyn, Ben Vorlich, cycling through Sherwood forest or scrambling your KTM across a Welsh beach – well, I reckon this is the best software you can get to fulfil that role. Oh yes, one last note – there’s a very handy function for removing shaking from, for example, headcams – the proDAD Mercalli SE advanced image correction and rock-steady video stabilization. I applied it to some old downhill MTB footage and it worked a treat.

Very much recommended!

 

95%

AR

REVIEW: Garmin Oregon 550 GPS

January 27, 2013

Garmin 550gps

Garmin Oregon 550 GPS

GPS

PRICE £315

 

Having been using and teaching the use of conventional GPS receivers for a number of years I was interested to see how the next generation with on screen mapping would perform. As all the mapping is based on the same Ordnance Survey maps, the only differences are between how each unit operates, and affordability.
While the units are expensive, the mapping seems even more so. Combine the cost of this with PC based mapping and you are looking at a hefty chunk of money, certainly more than I could afford. Luckily for me a Garmin competition in TGO brought me a brand new Oregon 550 and mapping for the National Parks. Out with the old and switch on to the new…
The Oregon 550 is a great concept. A touchscreen GPS with optional on screen mapping (courtesy of a Micro SD card), and built in camera, which takes photos which can later be used to navigate to as a waypoint. So how easy is it to use?
To start with, along with the usual cables and instruction disc, the Oregon 550 comes with two rechargeable batteries and a battery charger. Having charged and used these batteries I can say that I found them to be unreliable, and that at times the unit would become unresponsive and slow. In some cases the tracklog failed to record some sections, not good at all should you wish to backtrack, or even just keep a log of your trips. I found that often the only way to fix this was to switch the unit off and on, but the problem would reappear later anyway. Other rechargeable batteries acted the same way, but using standard alkaline batteries apparently remedied this problem, and I had less problems with it while it had alkaline batteries fitted.
Another handy feature is the attachment point on the back, which is far more secure than the previous clip attachment, and allows the unit to be attached to a carabiner or to a secure bike mount. The rear cover release is located at the bottom of this clip, and is a definite improvement on the similar looking system on the Colorado models, which slides on, and can occasionally catch on the rubber seal.
The unit itself keeps many features from most of the other Garmins in the range, so if you have used other Garmin units you should be able to quickly master this one, however instead of buttons almost all the features are accessed via a touchscreen, which is glove friendly (although if you are wearing big chunky gloves a stylus from a Nintendo DS can prove rather useful).
The default page is the main menu, which allows you to access the usual features, including a trip computer, camera, a photo viewer, waypoint and track managers, along with maps and compass. From the main menu you can also customise the unit, changing the display size and information, and you can even use your own photos as wallpaper. The trip computer is excellent and more versatile, having a maximum of eight easily changeable data fields, so that your location, speed, height and more can be accessed at a glance. Take some time to find the right setup for you and won’t regret it.
Additional mapping is optional. The unit has a built in base map, which has some road mapping in it. However buying one of these and using the base map only would be like using a Ferrari for the school run. It can use the Garmin European road mapping, which I did use while waiting on the Micro SD card with the maps to arrive, and this is an improvement over the inbuilt map, however if you want it to work to its full potential then you just have to install the Discoverer mapping. The screen on the unit isn’t overly large, and panning can be slow at times, and is acceptable on its own, but used in conjunction with a paper map it is be a fantastic combination. I was using the National Park Discoverer mapping card, which, as it suggests covers Britain’s national parks. The good thing is that should you go “off map” then another large scale overview map kicks in, and if you zoom in you have road mapping available. The road mapping comes in extremely handy, as you can navigate to a point “on road” as opposed to the traditional direct line. This is great for cycling, or just for getting you to the hills in the first place, and optional car and cycle mounting kits are available. You can even search for individual addresses and travel to them, handy for finding an after walk pub!
For general hill use the national park card is a good budget option, having a fairly decent coverage of the more popular hill areas, but should you wish to travel to more remote locations then the full OS mapping is necessary.
Another good feature is the 3.2 megapixel camera. It is of reasonable quality for taking snapshots, comparable with the cameras found on most mobile phones and has a 4x digital zoom. When you take a picture the GPS records the location. Should you wish to navigate back to where the picture was taken, simply select the picture and go to it. It’s that simple.
One area in which the Oregon 550 differs from the previous generation of GPS, is that your computer “sees” it differently, much like a digital storage device. Instead of downloading tracks directly to mapping software, these are transferred from one drive to another as GPS exchange files. I use both Memory Map and Quo mapping, and find it easy to use with either system.
Similarly, tracks, waypoints and geocaches can be downloaded directly from websites and into the GPS as GPS exchange files, far quicker and easier than previous methods.
The unit did have some drawbacks initially, the battery problem being one. Another problem was far more annoying. It is good practice to reset your GPS prior to a walk, otherwise the odometer begins to add all your previous walks together. Having completed my first walk using this GPS I saved it as normal, and reset the unit. I arrived home to download the information on to the PC to find…..nothing. Selecting clear current track not only clears the track, but waypoints too. Initially I thought I had made a mistake somewhere, and tried again, with the same result. Having loaded in information before the walk, I now found myself on the hill without the waypoints I had saved for the walk. This wasn’t critical, they were there as a backup, but it was a cause for concern. A visit to the Garmin website led me to the solution. The unit was in need of updates or patches, which correct software errors. These are available on the website, but Garmin really should encourage new owners to update their GPS before using it. With the updates installed, it operates perfectly.

 

Overall I’m very impressed with it. It’s versatile and is a million miles away from the first generation GPS which told you where you were and little more. Useful from the minute you leave your house, to the trail and back, it’s one of the items which will end up near the top of your kit list, and unlike the GPS of yesteryear, near at hand, not stuck somewhere in your rucksack.

 

RATING 4/5

JCA

INTERVIEW: Ian Watson, who wrote with Stanley Kubrick!!

July 29, 2012

An interview with Ian Watson

by

Andy Remic

Hi Ian. Thanks for agreeing to do an interview for Ultimate Adventure Magazine!

UAM: First, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing career? I believe it is long and orgasm(achine)ic?

IW: I suppose in one sense it´s already quite long since my first SF story was published in 1969, which seems a while ago, but  to me 1969 still doesn´t seem particularly long ago.  Maybe I manage my mitochondria and telomeres better due to Real Ale and instead of accumulating errors I accumulate stories and novels. This said, I realise that I write in order to put my insights into external storage in the form of books and stories, so that I don´t have this burden of enlightenment constantly pressing upon me, which enables me to live merrier as time passes by.   The fact that progressive enlightenment should be a burden is a paradox which I must now consider.  Essentially, I write stuff in order to explore and discover (and reveal unto others, if they´re interested) rather than in order to generate a heap of publications — and there isn´t really such a heap, either; I just happen to have been doing this for quite a while, so it puzzles and even sometimes irks me (not that I´m very irkable) when people say that I´m prolific, since my most recent short story, sold to PS, took about 18 months to write for the sake of that always impossible perfection, although not continuously for 18 months, granted; and I did a few other things in the meantime too.  The most important thing about career is that it is NOT sodding well careen, which means to turn a ship on its side so as to scrape off barnacles; thus you do NOT careen along a corridor, an illiteracy which besets more and more fiction by folks who ought to know better; you career along a corridor.  Nor does actinic mean a bloody bright, ravening, aching light such as caused by an explosion or by an eldritch portal; it merely refers to the chemical action of sunlight, and I do wish the same folks would stop poshing up their prose actinically.

UAM: And I believe you worked with Stanley Kubrick. That must have been an insane situation to find yourself in! Can you tell us how that came about?

IW: It would be quite boring rehashing all that because 10,000 words on the subject are on my website entitled “Plumbing Stanley Kubrick”, but to what´s already there I should add my amazing discovery that I also wrote several versions of the carnival of destruction of robots Flesh Fair scenes, and completely forgot about this because Stanley told me to exclude such stuff from my final Screen Story when I came to write it up.  Spielberg found these scenes in Stanley´s bottom drawer or filing cabinet or in his heap of discs.  In about 2007 Jane Struthers of the University of the Arts, London, where Stanley´s archives have been enshrined, contacted me to do an interview for a huge coffee table book she was preparing with Jan Harlan about A.I. “from Stanley Kubrick to Steven Spielberg”; and lo she revealed this unto me, whereupon I delved deeper in the big box of  17-year-oldish printouts, and behold!

UAM: So what was he like? Go on. What was he really like?

IW: I genuinely liked him.  In fact I couldn´t have worked with Stanley eyeball to eyeball for 9 months if we hadn´t got on pretty well.  And I didn´t feel inhibited by the pie-in-the-sky bonus because I never imagined that the film would actually be made (until this happened and the pie descended from the sky).  He was droll and could be a tease, and a magpie too. At the same time, he was very focused, convinced of his vision regarding the tale of Pinocchio for robots, but he was also very patient, willing to wait for years till the story became perfect and foolproof; although fools he did not suffer gladly, or not for long.  I was honoured when he actually phoned me personally to say goodbye, instead of just walking away as happened to others; but then three months later he changed his mind and phoned again: “You know, this is one of the great stories of the world…”

I deduced that Stanley liked me fairly well too, yet he couldn´t possibly maintain an ever-extending family of acquaintances, a mistake which Malcolm McDowell made.  I wish I´d had a chance to play chess with Stanley.

UAM: You attend a lot of conventions. What’s your opinion of conventions? Great fun or a waste of intellectual energy?

IW: In the UK they aren´t writing conventions, they´re reader conventions — I don´t go to viewer conventions — and usually they´re great fun even when the committee neglect to lay on good Real Ale, as opposed to bad or not enough Real Ale; and gossip with fellow scribes as well as with the rest of the fan family which can be richly illuminating, on all topics ranging from artificial intelligence design to Real Ale, just for instance.  Since I never prepare what I´m going to say on any panels but allow my mouth to speak spontaneously, as though controlled by imaginary Gods in accordance with the theories of Julian Jeynes about the bicameral mind, often I discover insights that I never previously knew I had within.  Therefore conventions generate energy rather than dissipating it.  I abhor dissipation, as I´m sure you know, hic.  Although the time when my body did disobey Standing Orders, at a Heathrow Eastercon about 4 ago, and reached for a bottle of  Scandinavian fire water, despite the 10 hours of subsequent  amnesia which endure to this day filmed evidence demonstrates that I can also dance the tango while singing opera, of which I was unaware previously.

UAM: You also seem to spend a lot of time in Spain. Are you a bank robber on the run? What’s the appeal? What adventures do you get up to out there in the sun?

I spend most of my time with my beloved Cristina, translator of A Song of Ice & Fire, in  Asturias on the north coast of Spain where, contrary to My Fair Lady, most of the rain falls rather than on the plain, causing green meadows and hills where dancing goblins play bagpipes and swig the local artisan cider.  I don´t care a  piss about sun, sand, and sangría — the sea tried to drown me a few years ago off Andalusia!  Actually I don´t much like cider either, but the wines here are gorgeous, and just 200 metres from our flat is beer paradise (see http://www.facebook.com/LaBuenaBirra for a photo) with a laudable stock of going on for 40 of the most delicious beers of the world, just one of which, for example, is an excellent Porter from Colorado of all unexpected places, not to mention the top stars of Belgian Trappist breweries including some rareties hard to find in Belgium itself.  Quite a few of the other pubs in Gijón have Grimbergen and Affligem on draught.  I need to watch my waist, though, since Asturian restaurants cater deliciously for the huge traditional appetities of miners who, in fact, no longer do any mining.  Gijón´s long curving sandy beach, favoured by surfers, is where the Vikings first came ashore in Spain to ravage and pillage.  Where better to come ashore?  Gijón also contains a People´s University which is the biggest building in Spain, bigger than the Escorial Palace, and definitely impressive in appearance — inside of its courtyard easily fits a twin of Oxford´s Radcliffe Camera with added statues of saints.   In collab with Cristina I just finished perpetrating my first cookbook, of 50 meals named after famous people, due to amaze the Spanish-reading world in the run-up to Xmas 2012 for the 50th anniversary of big Spanish publisher Círculo de Lectores.  In writing the stories of the meals I learned a lot about the Secret History of the World previously unknown to me, as seen from a gastronomic viewpoint.  Did you know that Caruso was fined $10 for  monkeying with a lady´s behind in the monkey house of New York zoo?  Caruso claimed that a monkey was responsible, although possibly he was set up.  This, in connection with Salsa Caruso which was invented in Uruguay commemoratively a mere 40 years after a thrilling visit by Caruso to Montevideo.  Such things should be better known, and soon will be — in Spanish, anyway.  Maybe an English language edition might follow, pushing Jamie off the best-seller list.

UAM: My favourite books by your good self are Orgasmachine and The Beloved of My Beloved. Can you tell us about these particular titles?

IW: Inspired while I was living in Japan by Japanese comics and by Mikimoto´s Pearl Island, as well as by the Essex House line of  suversive “speculative” pornography written by American poets for about 18 months in the late 70s (before the controlling Brandon House realised and suppressed Essex House), and by Female Liberation, I wrote the first version of Orgasmachine under the title The Woman Factory in Oxford in 1970-71.

An agent sent it to various very unsuitable publishers until I demanded that he walk upstairs to the next floor of the same sodding building he himself was in, where highly suitable Olympia Press had their London office.  (Thus began my deep respect for literary agents… I did not say that!)  Olympia rapidly read the book and rushed it to their New York Office, an event which could have happened months earlier without any agent.  But then, disaster!  I was in a train when I read over another commuter´s shoulder (mean bugger that I am) an inside news story in The Guardian: Girodias Goes Bankrupt.  (He of Olympia Press, no less.)   I could have been up there with Henry Miller, Nabokov, Burroughs, and Pauline Réage…  Anyway, thanks to Maxim Jakubowski, my early version of the book did at least appear in French, entitled Orgasmachine.

Fast-Forward to the early 80s when I rewrote TWF, now entitled The Woman Plant, and sold it for $10,000 advance to Playboy Paperbacks edited by the very excellent Sharon Jarvis.  Disaster again!  The Playboy empire lost its gambling licence for its London casino, from which a lot of its profit came, and to scrape up some cash Playboy sold Playboy Paperbacks to Berkley, who emphatically did not want my book.  (But I kept the advance.)  Out of a job, Sharon Jarvis nevertheless volunteered to agent the book because she loved it, and she tried really hard; but a politically correct climate was a-dawning and The Woman Plant was becoming anathema.)

Fast-Forward to the end of the 90s when the excellent Mr Kawamura of Core Publishing emailed me from Tokyo.  Core Publishing, as in hardcore, mainly produced Japanese clones of Penthouse, but Mr Kawamura adored SF and would sneak it in at any opportunity.  The result, skipping an intermediate stage or two, was the beautifully illustrated Japanese edition of Orgasmachine of 2001, rewritten once more (bannered with my credit for A.I. Artificial Intelligence) which was a hardback best-seller and shortlisted for a Japanese award.  A.I. had earned very well in Japan because a lot of Japanese housewives went back to see it two or three times, excited about my Gigolo Joe.

Finally in 2010 the equally excellent Ian Whates of NewCon Press published  the book at long last in English, only about 40 years after I started writing it.  If people want to know what the fuss was about, let them sally henceforth for a physical copy to NewCon Press´s website, http://www.newconpress.co.uk, or to Amazon, or for a Kindle edition to arrive within a mere 2 minutes either use Amazon or go to http://www.sfgateway.com.

Orgasmachine was very enthusiastically reviewed at length in the BSFA print-journal Vector by the also excellent Justina Robson with only minor quibbles.  I was glad that a woman reviewed the book that was originally “The Woman Factory”.  When Justina saw her review in print, she facebooked that she regretted even having quibbled; although surely reviewers are obliged to quibble at least a bit, otherwise how will readers trust them?

The Beloved of My Beloved (NewCon Press, 2009; ebook via http://www.sfgateway.com)  is, so far as I know, the only full-length genre book written by two authors with different mother tongues — and whose twisted brains seem to fuse seamlessly.  Within a framing narrative of a man besotted with a life-size tumour in the  shape of his dead beloved are the bedtime stories he tells to the tumour.   The Beloved of My Beloved is a perverse encyclopedia of Western civilisation approaching collapse,   the “Beloved” being symbolic of the desires we vest in consumer capitalism.  The tumour is the sickness of this consumption culture.  The stories are illustrations of this, upon an eroticised tumour the size and shape of a woman’s body.  “The Beloved” may be a definitive metaphor for aims of Western civilisation taken to perverse extremes already inherent in them.  You may care to compare objects of desire as discussed by Baudrillard.  The tales are transgressive, hilarious, erotic and anti-erotic at the same time.

The first story in the book was conceived in an otherwise deserted hotel on a wooded hillside very near the Hungarian-Slovak border when Roberto and I were guests at a convention in the 2nd ugliest town in Hungary (thus they put guests in a forest instead), when Darth Vader was late for breakfast, consequently Roberto and I began to talk about virtual necrophilia, as one would.  Weird Tales bought the resulting story, one of the mildest in the book, which was much reprinted and translated.  The second story to be written, “The Penis of My Beloved”, was conceived during the day while Roberto and I were driving from Romania to Italy via Germany, and went to star in Best New Erotica, then in the Best of the Best New Erotica.  So our penis is the best of the best.

Other, more drastic stories followed as we realised the extent of the metaphor, although the tale which won the British Science Fiction Association Award of 2010 in the Best Short Fiction category (“The Beloved Time of Their Lives”) was again relatively mild, and romantic in its way.  Amongst people who read and voted for it was a lady who seemed at first to be a regular Lancashire lass but who then revealed that she was originally a Cossack from Poltova, and Roberto had got the recipes of her region exactly right.   We cater to many tastes. At the beginning Roberto wrote in Italian then translated himself into surreal English; by the time of this story he was writing directly in surreal English.

Since the book appeared, we´ve had a new tale, “The Invention of Beloved Money” published in Rudy Rucker´s Flurb; wherein the world´s monetary crisis is solved.  Economists, pay attention!

UAM: And finally, what are your most current projects, and why should we buy them?

IW:  The big current project is revising a very ambitious and long novel called The Waters of Destiny which I worked on intensively for several years in collaboration with Andy West, a fellow member of the Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group which I founded about 10 years ago.  Andy has recently (Easter 2012) published with Ian Whates´ NewCon Press an excellent novel all of his own, The Outcast and the Little One, set on a future Venus.   Our WOD (for short), set in the very near future and in the medieval Middle East and Ethiopia, is about an 11th century Arab doctor of genius who succeeds — funded by the Assassins of Alamut — in isolating and storing the actual cause of the Black Death, which had nothing to do with rat fleas, as the scientific world is now beginning to realise.  This scientific “triumph”, with awful consequences past and near future, was just possible within the mindset and using Arab medical technology of the time.  This novel is actually very IMPORTANT (not to mention increasingly timely, and exciting, with great characters) so of course no commercial publisher or agent would touch it with a bargepole.  Consequently Andy and I are going to release it an ebook, probably in three parts (it´s quite big) probably with the first part free; probably some time during 2012.   Then people will know what I´ve been up to for the past few years, aside from writing short stories, the most recent collection of which, Saving for a Sunny Day (NewCon Press, with a gorgeous cover by Dominic Harman and a long, very thoughtful intro by Adam Roberts ) gathers a dozen or so of my effusions reprinted from mags and anthologies subsequent to my previous collection, The Butterflies of Memory (PS Publishing, 2006).   By the way, Gollancz have recently released all of my works — except for Sunny Day and my 4 psychotic gothic space operas set in the Warhammer 40K universe, but including books from  other publishers than Gollancz — as ebooks through their http://www.sfgateway.com.  So there´s no excuse for not reading almost everything I ever wrote!  Except I suppose for time and inclination…

UAM: Thank you very much for your time!!

IW: …and inclination; smiley.

You can read more at Ian’s website, http://www.ianwatson.info/

REVIEW: These Are They Days That Must Happen To You by Dan Walsh

June 12, 2012

These Are the Days that Must Happen To You

Dan Walsh

Century

375 pages

PRICE £18.99 (HB)

I’ll cut to the chase. This is a brilliant book. I’ve read all manner of motorcycle adventures and accounts, from Charlie and Ewan’s Long Way Round/Down diaries, to Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels and more off-the-wall offerings (Hunter S. Thompson, here’s looking at you!). I first came across Dan Walsh (like so many others, I am sure) in BIKE magazine. I had my own business at the time, and was going through a period of extreme and utter miserableness, and so it was with great pleasure I’d receive BIKE magazine every month, and read about  Dan’s woes. There’s nothing like hearing about somebody’s else’s troubles to really cheer you up- and did Dan have troubles, many of his own making, if I (and he) is brutally honest.

This book contains Dan’s motorcycle overland adventures, first from Blighty and through Africa (to a rather sour end of the adventure in Kenya, an incident filled with theft, kidnap, threats of violence, corrupt police and some rather unsavoury locals), and then from a fresh start in Canada, down through New York, across the States and down to Mexico and The Americas. Oh, and there’s a bit in the middle which feels crow-barred in, a few squished in columns from Dan’s time in London between trips.

Dan’s writing starts off good, despite what some moaning muppets complaining to Bike’s letter pages originally whined. It starts off good, gets better and better, and by the point Dan’s ready to commit suicide in Buenos Aires, he is in full poetic stride.

“I miss specifics – roaring Old Trafford Saturdays with my Da, cozy Sunday roasts with my Ma, bed-wetting drunk on a school night with our Kid. Sometimes it does get lonely. It doesn’t last. Just drink a beer, talk to myself, spank that monkey. What? Miss some people, find more humanity. Same wrong night in Guinea I give up in a village. A filfthy, freaked-out foreigner wearing mud skin and weird boots. They feed me, water me, bed me. How would I respond if an unknown West African knocked on my door at midnight needing help?”

Dan’s a real person, a man’s man, and writes with empathy and intelligence and humanity. And observational comedy. Dan is the Ben Elton of the motorbike traveller’s comedy club.

“‘It is the responsibility of every South African to make this country great again.’ I tell him that his fine words are only slightly undermined by the fact that he’s just tried to sell me a wrap of Nigerian coke and a discount ticket for Sergeant Pecker’s Strip Club. He laughs. We go for a drink… Someone’s put ‘Lady in Red’ on the jukebox a dozen times. I’m the youngest drunk in there by a bad twenty years, and that includes the hookers. Classy girls – their tattoos are spelt right.”

So you’re banging along, page after page after page, enjoying yourself immensely until you get to Buenos Aires. And it gets very serious. Arse.  “So we create a nocturnal hobo jungle of casual criminality, loveless violence and petty sex. Even nihilists need a schedule, and ours seldom changes… Dignified waiters in bleached aprons serve coffee and croissants to the respectable ready-for-workers, and frosty beers and colder smiles to our crew of growling idiots crouched in the corner round a table full of empties, listening through our arseholes, scratching at our eyeballs and chewing off our bleeding lips… ‘Ay, los esqualidos.’ The squalid ones. The door swings shut and I p*** away the last drops of my soul.”

What can I say, this is not just a description of a trip on a motorcycle; this is a soap opera, a narrative, a precisely plotted dramatisation of a likeable man hitting rock bottom; and if you have any soul, you’ll cheer with Dan, you’ll live with Dan, and you’ll suffer with Dan. This book infuses you with emotions. It kicks Dan’s empathy and humanity into the back of your skull. It doesn’t ask you to agree, but it asks you to listen, and in my opinion this is the greatest set of motorcycle travel diaries known to man. I’ll leave you with this section, and urge you to check out this book. Despite being a collection of magazine columns, it’s a brilliant work of genius and emotion in its own right.

“The maid’s been in. Bed made, clothes folded, books stacked, papers tidied. I glance down. A printout of Hunter S. Thompson’s suicide note glances back. ‘No more Games … No More Walking. No More Fun.’ I get the message. The only thing we’re missing is Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ muzak in the elevator. I walk onto the balcony and smoke. Sully God’s view on my vulture’s perch. Then crouch on the ledge, a pot-bellied gargoyle leering out of Chapel Perilous. What the hell happened, man? I guess I just had to know. I had to know what happens if you just keep going. And now I do know. You sail off the edge. There is no bottom step.”

RATING: 92% UAM Gold Award.

AR

REVIEW: BMW R1200GS Adventure

June 9, 2012

BMW R1200GS Adventure

2010, Manual

£13,500, 0 miles+

Yes, I openly admit, I was (and am) an anal retentive in following Ewan McGregor, Charlie Boorman and Claudio von Planta in both Long Way Round and Long Way Down. I’ve always been into bikes, and had many a machine in my time – from CBR600 to Bandit 1200, Ducati Monster 900 to… yes. You guessed it. I took the plunge and bought a top of the range BMW GS1200 Adventure. With aluminium panniers. ABS. Heated grips. And some nice stickers. And furry dice.

I figured I’d always been a tight-arse when it came to bikes. Started with a CBR400 crash-damaged heap of flame-decorated junk (from a “friend”), then the ubiquitous Bandit 600; the problem always seemed to be, coming from North Manchester at the time, “I’ve got six grand sat in the garage for 8 months of the year whilst the Pennine Moors chonk their moorland urine over the streets”. Anyway. This time, I thought, yes, I will do it in style. Top of the range. ABS. Onboard computer. Stuff it. The Full Monty.

It was with great trepidation I picked up my Silver Beast. I’d named her Mary. After the donkey from my novels Kell’s Legend, Soul Stealers and Vampire Warlords. In the novels, Mary is a hardy and stubborn beast, and it gently amused me to name the BMW after such a creature of burden. After all, she’d be carrying my fat ass. And so, I blasted away from BMW in a cloud of exhaust fumes… only I didn’t. Being a heavy old beast, the BMW didn’t so much blast as lumber up to speed. 1200cc, yes, but not quite the kick of a Bandit 1200 (which is like sitting on a bullet), or even a Monster 900. Arse. Last time I buy a bike without a test ride… And, as has been well-documented in all manner of motorbike magazinery, the indicator switchgear was odd, left indicator on the left handlebar, right on the right. Sounds logical, but when you’re used to the traditional combined switch on the left with a push cancel – for 15 years (and now instinct), this new BMW demonology was as logical as a kick in the happy sacks from your darling wife (although I do confess, that eventuality can be logical; ouch).

Anyway, to business! The bike is called an Adventure, and this magazine is the Ultimate Adventure Magazine! So did the bike provide adventures? Provoke adventures? Instigate adventures? Did it grab me by the nackers and drag me into the arse-end of a rabid bottle fight? Did it drop me behind enemy lines, give me a flick-knife and bar of soap, and scream, “Get yourself home, laddie!”

Err. Not exactly.

It’s a good bike. Don’t get me wrong. And for touring? Oh yes! Big panniers. A nice reliable solid stance and motor. Good, predictable cornering ability. Shaft drive. Heated grips. Good wind deflection. Warm your legs on the parallel-twin boxer engine when it gets a bit nippy.

Did I take it round the world like Ewan, Charlie and Claudio, on the Ultimate Biking Adventure?

Err. Not exactly.

I confess. I am a “part time” adventurer. A part-time biker. In fact, I take my adventures and travels and explorations in little snippets. I have a wife and two kids, a mortgage and a job. Like most of us. And like most of us, I don’t really want to chuck it all in and head off to live in sweaty pants in the jungle for three years. That’s not me. I like having kids. Hell, I like having a mortgage. And I certainly like having a wife. I don’t like having Dave Lister underpants. I don’t like having socks full of maggots. I don’t like having a leech attached to my groin. And thus I sometimes reign-in my mania and at least try and be a sensible and reasonable human being.

The BMW took me on various trips, down to Hastings, up round the Lake District, to Penrith and Moffat, through the North Yorkshire Moors (stunning) and up to Loch Lomond (even more stunningerer). Not once did the bike miss a beat. It was dependable, and reliable, and lots of other words that end in “ibble”. When I got used to the machine, and despite its weight and dynamics, I could really hustle the big bugger, really throw Mary around – which is quite some feat, because for the first time in my life, this was a bike I actually dropped. In a jet wash. After just washing it. With a queue of car drivers watching. Bum.

Low speed manoeuvring could be very difficult. And I’m a touch under six foot, weigh 16 stone, and consider myself pretty strong. I tell you something – I look at Ewan, Charlie and Claudio with much more respect after actually owning one of these bikes. Because, to travel round the world on it, fully laden? You’d have to be insane. Or an actor under contract.

After all those miles without a problem, when I relocated from Manchester to Lincoln, and having just travelled 1500 miles in crappy old box vans fully laden with crappy old furniture, it was a relief – as my final burst of freedom, my final act of leaving Manchester behind – to bring down the bike. Wife and kids already ahead, I tonked on down the M62, then onto the A15 through North Lincolnshire. The sun was shining. The birds tweating. Mary was throbbing between my thighs like a good Big ‘Ol Thing. Oh how life felt good! Every car ahead was a target to be hunted down. I was an elegant bird of prey…. but wait. What was that stutter? A cough? A burble? Another stutter? Nooooo! Not what you really want at 90mph!

And then… silence. Gradually roll to a stop by the side of the road. Great. I check the onboard computer. Fuel tank nearly full. But hold on – it was nearly full 120 miles back, wasn’t it? Petrol cap off, slosh around, is there any sloshing? Can you hear any sloshing? Ring wife. Wait. Couple of friendly bikers stop to offer help, very kind of them, glad that sort of thing still goes on. I don’t expect THIS on my Beemah! Wife returns with fuel, I fill Mary up, bike works. Great, but not great. Stabbed in the back by a dicky fuel gauge. When returned to BMW, they casually informed me it was a common fault. I gave a dry smile. I could have done without that “common fault” when my wife was forced to drag the kids on another pointless 50 mile round trip after an original journey of 130 miles.

So then. Conclusions.

The 1200GS Adventure is a good, solid, mostly reliable touring bike, perfect for the road, insane on the rough stuff (and that’s insane in a bad way). Heavy and ponderous until you get on the gas, good storage via BMW’s aluminium panniers. Quality, but overpriced, I feel. It has ample space for your walking boots, ice axe, tent and sleeping bag – but after running up Helvellyn, would your legs really have the strength to hustle Big Mary to the Big Sleep?

RATING: 72%

AR

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