Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why does "weedy" imply puny?

Anyone know what one of these is? We have several ...

I do know they propagate like anything, they have a propensity for growing in stonework, and they grow out of massive woody clusters of roots - so much so that I was very wary of pulling them out in case I brought the walls down. Seriously. So I had to make do with breaking the stems.

"On Saturday," I said carelessly to Best Beloved, "let's blitz the garden."

"Okay," she said with a confident and knowing smile. I was thinking: pull up the tall weeds, cut the grass, rake it all up. Easy.

You know our garden needs work when I, of all people, feel moved to do some, even in this kind of weather. That's the problem with shared gardens, especially ones in properties that only have 50% owner-occupance and 50% of them are probably moving soon.

I started on the taller weeds and moved down. Our garden only currently rates about 4 or 5 deciHeligans so I'm sure it could have been much worse. It also became clear it needs more than an afternoon. It's been mowed before but rarely raked. So it needs raking. Then it needs the weeds I didn't do today being pulled up. Then and only then can it be mowed, and raked again. It's going to look scrappy, but it will be short and honour will be satisfied.

I also came across this little chap nestling beneath a leaf. Not the glove, that's for scale, but what's on the glove. Perfect and untouched.

I'm not aware of any ground-nesting birds in the area, so it probably fell from a tree or got carried there. I'm reasonably sure it won't be hatching, anyway. I'm guess pigeon. Again, anyone?

Occasional recipes: fish with a chorizo crust

Originally from The Hairy Bikers, whence this is lifted with my annotations. Very rich and of course totally missing the point about eating on fish on Friday to be penitential. Anyway:

  • ½ lime, juice only [half a Tesco lime produces about 3 microns of fluid. A whole lime. Much better.]
  • 4 firm white fish fillets (not steaks) such as haddock, monkfish or cod
  • 150g/5½oz day-old white bread, crusts removed
  • 250g/9oz cured chorizo, skinned and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced [as usual they totally underestimate. I used 4. Minimum.]
  • 1 unwaxed lime, zest only
  • 2 tbsp flatleaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 50g/2oz butter
  • lime wedges, to serve [put another way, you need at least two limes, one to juice and zest, one to get the wedges from. I forgot this last night and only got one lime, so sacrificed the wedges. Not such a big deal, except that the bread/chorizo crust is very rich and you really need the extra lime juice to cut through it.]
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
  2. For the fish, pour the lime juice over the fish fillets. Leave for half an hour while you prepare the crust.
  3. For the crust, cut the bread into chunks and place in a roasting tin. Place the chorizo on top of the bread.
  4. Transfer to the oven and cook for 15 minutes. As the heat increases, the fat from the sausage will run into the bread chunks. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  5. Once cool, place the bread and sausage into a blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs [whee! They go round and round! Again!]. Add the garlic, lime zest, parsley, parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. Process again to combine the ingredients.
  6. Place the fish, along with the juices, skin-side down in a roasting tin. Press on a thick layer, about 0.5cm, of the crust.
  7. Cut the butter into small cubes and dot over the crust.
  8. Tightly cover the roasting tin with foil and bake the fish in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.
  9. Serve with chips or [barbarians] new potatoes and a rocket salad, and the lime wedges.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

C.S.I. Cumnor

Only 10 miles walked this weekend - we must be slipping. 4 around Watlington on Saturday to demonstrate the red kites to my parents, and 6 around Cumnor on Sunday, finishing to gaze in awe at a stone fireplace in a churchyard.

The kites obligingly went through their paces, swooping and diving and soaring like they were being paid for it. Go up Watlington Hill and you can look down on them swooping and diving etc, which is even more fun. Beautiful, fantastic birds, and even though I had exactly nothing to do with their extinction, reintroduction or subsequent success I do feel immensely proud of them.

The Cumnor fireplace is an Elizabethan crime scene, the site of a scandal that rocked England at the time. Amy Robsart, wife of the Queen's favourite Robert Dudley, fell mysteriously to her death down a staircase in Cumnor Place, after which he was not perceived to act as a grieving husband ought. Cumnor Place was pulled down in 1810 and its site is now an overflow graveyard next to the church. The fireplace is set into a bank and is all that's left of the building.

Robert may not have valued his wife that much. At the top of Watlington Hill we unexpectedly encountered what I'm guessing was a local mosque picnic, 10 or so families with the girl children already sporting headscarves on top of the usual kid attire and the women utterly featureless in full hijab. Some at least allowed to show faces, some with just the eyeslits. What the kites made of all the penguins, I don't know. Left wondering exactly what kind of culture regards women as irresistably tempting, wanton, slutty etc if they don't have everything but the eyes covered up. You can value your wife too much, too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Worth £35 of anyone's money

[Previous posts here and here]

So, names can be named. Back in February I mentioned an individual living north of Watford who was under investigation for suspected eBay fraud. My involvement was that I was one of the ones he defrauded, to the price of one boxset of Battlestar Galactica, third series.

Then things went quiet ...

Until today. From DC957 Rich Clarke, Doncaster Reactive CID:
"On the 20th May 2009, the suspect in this case Ryan HERRING was charged with 6 specimen charges of "Fraud by False Representation" and wishes to take another 408 offences into consideration. His first court appearance will be on Friday 29th May 2009 at Doncaster Magistrates Court.

Basically, Mr HERRING has made full admissions to his fraud activities over the last 2 years and has created a number of Ebay Accounts resulting in the advertising of 1000's of items and the subsequent sales where you've become victims. In view of his admissions the Crown Prosecution Service decided to charge initially with 6 specimen charges that cover the full 2 year period and too allow other offences to be taken into consideration. Based on the replies I received via email from yourselves I have completed a schedule to include the 408 similar offences to be taken into consideration.

I have spoken to the complainants in relation to the 6 charges and so if you havn't received a telephone call from me in the last 2 days, assume that your complaint is one of the 408 other offences."
Render therefore to all their dues, and all that.

One more reason Skynet won't work

So, I needed to photocopy multiple copies of a manuscript that included blank pages. The helpful photocopier saw that I was trying to copy blank pages and concluded I obviously didn't really want to do that, so left the blank pages out. Result: pagination all mixed up in the multiple copies.

I had to copy another manuscript. This time I was cleverer. I wrote BLANK in large, friendly letters on the blank page. The copier still couldn't quite believe I wanted to waste valuable time, paper and toner on a page with BLANK scrawled on it and so again left the blanks out.

Please will machines stop trying to be helpful. It really doesn't help.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Of Time Lords, Trek and Thylacines

Oscar Wilde wasn't a science fiction fan as far as we know. I'm guessing he would be into the more character-driven stuff than nuts-and-bolts, if he were.

But he nailed fandom on the head very nicely:
Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
The kiss of death to any successful series is to let the fans get hold of it because they will love it to death, smothering any spontaneous creativity with layer upon layer of continuity, rigidly codifying throwaway one-off lines into immutable canon. Thus two 40-year-old TV series, Dr Who and Star Trek, which started in a blaze of unfettered creativity, were both nigh on unwatchable by the end. Star Trek in particular couldn't run a single scene without a very comprehensive checklist of fan boxes being ticked.

(Dr Who was in almost continuous production from 1963-1989. Trek started later and was more on-and-off – but if you add the original series @ 3 years + 3 spinoffs @ 7 years each + 1 spin-off @ 4 years it actually beats the Doc. And that's not to mention the 10 feature films.)

So when Dr Who was revived, Russell T Davies did it about the only way he could: after an unspecified period and number of regenerations had passed since the last outing, during which time the Time Lords and most established Who history had been wiped out and suddenly everything was up for grabs again. Sadly the initial impetus really hasn't lasted – tendrils from the past began to reach across the gap almost at once and now the two are almost one again. All it will take will be the miraculous reappearance of the Time Lords – which would disappoint but not surprise me in the least – and the work will be complete.

I doubt JJ Abrams consulted Mr Davies, so his revival of Star Trek was done the same way Tasmanian Tigers looked like dogs. Convergent evolution in a similar environment. He starts at the beginning, he wipes out the Time Lords whoever and suddenly everything is up for grabs. Bonzer.

Yes, the film is fun – the best cinematic Trek offering for a long time. About a decade, in fact. That said, I hope it doesn't spark a new series. Trek has reached retirement age. The Enterprise is snazzy, and respectful of the original design, and takes into account modern technology – inanimate surfaces suddenly providing computer interaction, for example. So it should keep everyone happy. But the days of a bridge full of personnel, even if they are all equipped with the latest Apple technology, staring earnestly at screens showing lots of stars are gone. I confidently expect that the order won't be “set course of Delta Vega”, it will be “ship, we'd like to go to Delta Vega, please”. And the ship may need persuading. The future of starship navigation won't be Sulu and Chekov, it will be Eddie the Shipboard Computer. Hi there!

(Why do they build starships in the middle of Iowa anyway? Wouldn't orbit be more logical?)

The cast convincingly play young versions of the originals, especially McCoy, who lacks the southern accent but is still secure in the knowledge that he's a damn good doctor and out of the line of command so he can say pretty well what he wants. The biggest exception, sadly, is Kirk, who has all Shatner's cockiness but none of the charm that let him get away with it. And then almost every positive thing the film accomplishes is offset by the last five minutes in which the recently graduated Ensign Kirk gets given the Federation's newest and best starship to command as a prize for saving the Earth, Oh, come on! That's just insulting to the intelligence. A medal and a commendation, maybe, but then let him sweat his way up the ranks like everyone else. I bet he would be a really rubbish c/o to work under. Everyone's pay would be months in arrears because he couldn't be arsed to do the paperwork.

On the other hand, I will forgive just about any shortcomings for the throwaway line about Admiral Archer's beagle.

For reference: Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As ‘Fun, Watchable'

Friday, May 15, 2009

Things I wasn't expecting to do with my right hand when I woke up this morning

#2417: shake hands with Richard Dawkins.

Whereas he probably woke up fully expecting to shake hands with a lot of instantly forgettable people he will never see again, and I'd guess he wasn't disappointed.

The great man came to work to use our videoconference suite to talk to the Royal Society of New Zealand, as part of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, on the theory of evolution today, 150 years after publication of On the Origin of Species. Apparently it went well. He at least had read the briefing notes about not wearing stripes or strong colours (both no-nos as far as good videoconferencing is concerned). The New Zealand host was wearing a black jacket and striped shirt, but hey, he's not the one the kiwis came out to listen to.

RD had also agreed to answer questions and I got a look at some of the ones sent in advance. Do you think there's a faith gene; why do Darwin's theories suggest a progression from simplicity to complexity when the tendency in the universe as a whole is towards entropy; and "If the phenotype is the chicken and DNA is the egg, why do you insist that the egg is more important?" And my favourite: "Is it possible for you to come to New Zealand and hold a debate with [redacted], (Head of [redacted] Church, Has a huge Maori/Pacific Island following, political power openly hates homosexuality and advocates strict adherence to fundamentalist biblical morality) and [redacted], who argues that evolutionary theory is being used as fodder, for a secular campaign against Christianity?"

Let me see. Guessing ... no.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Prologue prejudice

Prologues never did Chaucer any harm, generally speaking, but all in all I'm against them.

For some reason they work better in films or TV than in a book. They can set up a scene, or deliver some nice misdirection, or alternatively scatter some useful clues. They can establish an atmosphere. A picture is worth a thousand words and all that. A friend who went to see The Prestige, having earlier read the novel, was amused to see that the opening credits – a panning shot of dozens of identical-looking top hats – essentially gives the entire plot away, but no one who hasn't read the book is going to realise it. Thus, later on, the switched-on viewer gets the "aa-aa-h!" moment of understanding. But imagine if the book started with a description of the hats – that would just be pointless. Eventually the reader would get it, but so what? And that's why the book doesn’t do that.

This is not to say I won't use a prologue, ever. I already have. His Majesty's Starship kicks off with a press release. It seemed the quickest way of setting the scene. So I'll allow a prologue like that – something that seems off-whack with the story in general, so that the reader is intrigued to see how the two tie in.

But prologues that are essentially missing chapters from the body of the book – no. The information contained within such a prologue should emerge naturally within the story anyway. Case in point – an enjoyably flawed work I've just finished called The Last Templar by Michael Jecks. This, I'm guessing, was meant to kick off a medieval murder series in the vein of Cadfael. And it does – I gather there are other books with the same heroes – but not half as well. Part of that is way the author populates fourteenth century Devon with time travellers who invite visitors in for "a glass of beer" and can pin their movements down to "ten o’clock" or "half past seven". (He does however know his technical details, like how houses were made and lived in at that time, and boy does he make sure you know it too. But there are exciting action scenes, and a couple of good bits of misdirection, and the way he describes the glooming, looming Devon moors makes them almost come alive as characters in the best Gothic tradition. Credit where credit's due.)

BUT: it's a three-murder mystery and the most significant of these was an abbot who was tied to a tree and burnt alive. The abbot's abduction by two individuals was witnessed and it soon becomes very clear to the reader that there are only a couple of people in the novel who could possibly fit the description. One of them is quite obviously a nameless gent we met in the prologue. Now, without the prologue, we might think "that looks like X … but he’s obviously one of the good guys and I can't think why he would do something like that, so it can't be." Meanwhile X's history could be revealed bit by bit and the reader would be caught up in the excitement of discovery.

But no. Thanks to the prologue we can immediately guess 95% of what happened with perfect accuracy, and see why X would do that, and so the rest of the novel – approximately half, or more – is a frustrating exercise of watching the hero be immensely thick until even he can't avoid working it out.

Prologues. Avoid, if possible.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dragon force

You can grow heartily sick of the Hawaii Five-O theme tune. Surprising, I know, but true. At the annual Abingdon dragonboat event they play it every time there's a race, and there's 18 teams in three heats plus a semi final and a final. That's a lot of Five-O. On the plus side, once you're on the water you don't hear it, due to some strange acoustic effect plus the fact that you're concentrating on the paddling. At the risk of sounding like a Guinness ad, you wait. The word comes. You ready with the paddles. And then you go at it for the next minute, regardless of how much water you're being splashed with, or wondering how the guy behind you keeps managing to hit you on the shoulder (hitting my paddle I could understand, but my shoulder?), you just keep going, one, two, one, two, and then suddenly you're told to stop paddling because apparently you've made it.

Look very closely at the boat furthest from the camera and you'll see a guy in a leather hat from New Zealand. The hat, not the guy. That would be me.

You might also notice that the boat is a little further ahead of the opposition. That would be because we won this heat with our personal best of 1 min 5.22 seconds. The Floating Points (for 'twas they) did 1 min 5.50 seconds, which is surely about as closely as you can cut a finish without altering the outcome by observing it. Still not quite enough to get us into the finals, which were for the fastest six teams, but a respectable showing. We're at the bottom of the score board, but only because we were the last to go in the first heat, against Blazin' Paddles. We won that one too ...

The key, we were told over and over again, is rhythm. A team with less powerful strokes but more rhythm will do better than a team with the opposite. This might be why, in between the endless Five-O, we were treated to possibly the full range of 70s disco beats. We did also get Meat Loaf's "Dead ringer for love," which would be an excellent tune to paddle to ... but no, Five-O it has to be.

To keep with the rhythm whilst paddling, teams are encouraged to shout "one, two, one, two ..." I did however hear an all female team rehearsing with "ooh, ah, ooh, ah." Another alternative suggested, bearing in mind the vaguely computational nature of our business, was "nought, one, nought, one". Or perhaps for soft porn aficionados, "yes, yes, yes, yes."

The Smurfs included a 78 year old lady in all three of their races (third from the back). So they may have lagged behind the rest in performance times, but three hearty cheers anyway.

People might have thought it was very public spirited of the Abingdon gay community to enter into the spirit of the proceedings so, fielding an entire team named Man2Man and getting a place in the finals. Sadly Man2Man is in fact the name of our church's men's group. I wish they'd asked, well, anyone before settling on that one, but what can you do?

Anyway, the sun shone, the sky was blue, the joie de vivre was vivacious, Cancer Research got two thirds of however much we raised. A good time had by all.

Friday, May 08, 2009

... though I'm still not sure about Ronald Reagan

Years ago – 1991 it were, the year before my stepson's birth and therefore ranking somewhere between the invention of the Spinning Jenny and the Ravelling Nancy – I wrote an article for Vector on J.G. Ballard's The Wind from Nowhere. This was Ballard's first published novel, though he subsequently disowned it and always referred to The Drowned World as his first.

I actually quite liked it – more than I liked any of his other works. By this time I had also read The Drowned World, The Crystal World, High Rise, Concrete Island, Hello America, The Day of Creation, Empire of the Sun and – of course – Crash (never did get round to The Atrocity Exhibition, for some reason), so I did know vaguely what I was talking about.

I was feeling naughty and provocative because I couldn't see the big deal and had probably just read yet another adulatory editorial in Interzone or the TLS on "science fiction’s consummate stylist" or whatever they were calling him that week and wanted to know why he was getting published and I wasn't. So I wanted to stick something into the ant nest and stir. As it was I did get a letter from no. 1 fan David Pringle – sent to me personally rather than to the letters column of Vector, and giving me the editorial equivalent of a pat on the head and a tolerant smile – but that was about all the reaction it drew.

My main bone of contention, which I still stand by, was that Ballard suffered from the literary writer's inability to trust the imagination of the audience to fill in the gaps. It had to be spelt out, and spelt out again, and then on the way out someone gave you a nudge and spelt it again just to make sure you got it. Instance: Vaughan in Crash has an obsession with the actress Elizabeth Taylor. (Or maybe it's "the movie star Elizabeth Taylor"? Let's say actress for the sake of convenience.) And this we are told time and time again. And it's never just Elizabeth Taylor or Taylor or "her" or "she". Every time Mrs Todd-Fisher-Burton-Twice shows up in the text it's "the actress Elizabeth Taylor". It gets so bloody tedious, and hence my reference in the article to it being "apparently in the contract that no copy editor should come within a mile of a Ballard manuscript".

Eighteen years later he goes and dies, much mourned and missed, and I surprised myself by feeling there was a hole in the world too. I hadn't read anything by him since that article, except for anything that popped up in Interzone in the meantime, but suddenly I was feeling I understood what he was about. Maybe it was because I've now lived out in the real world much longer than I had in 1991, and what he was telling me had time to sink in. Maybe it's just because the world has got so much more – let's say it – Ballardian. He wouldn't have been remotely surprised by the predominance of reality TV or the Jade Goody saga. He would probably have wondered what took it so long.

And so I resolved to read his autobiography, Miracles of Life.

Okay, I think I understand him more now. A little. I certainly like him much more than I did. He seems to have been a genuinely nice bloke, warm hearted and friendly and extremely moral. I'm amazed that, coming from utterly respectable middle class stock, he could always remain so apparently respectably middle class yet be so profoundly unrespectable in outlook and views. Michael Moorcock and the rest of the New Worlds crowd went hirsute and yeti-like in the sixties, yet in all the pictures our man is a slightly tweedy figure in jacket or v-neck and tie. His experiences with drugs just reminded him why he preferred whisky and soda. He lived in a happy family home in suburban Shepperton and turned out tales like Crash about the sexual fetishisation of car crashes.

He had the advantage of living at a time when a journal editor's salary could support a family of five on top of the purchase of the family home and a daily commute into London. I laugh a hollow laugh. Yet then his wife died suddenly he was stranded with three small children who he managed to raise single handedly – no mean feat today, yet alone in the early sixties.


Ballard as any fule no was born in the International Settlement in Shanghai in 1930, where he lived until his late teens, which included two and a half years of internment under the Japanese. (The experience wasn't quite as harsh as depicted in Empire of the Sun: he stayed with his parents and they could live in their own home for over a year after Japanese occupation. On the other hand there are throwaway lines like the one about about his rectum prolapsing due to malnutrition, so it was no picnic.) I get the impression he would have turned out much as he did even without the internment bit. His experiences in the camp just confirmed what he was already coming to see. Shanghai was even more artificial than most cities, constructed for the sole purposes of trade and treated as a fantasy land by the many expatriate communities living there. Where obscene wealth and obscene poverty can co-exist within a few feet you must start to feel that reality isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Maybe we as a race have always been outmassed by the world we live in, but until comparatively recently there was always the illusion that we could shape our destinies. Ballard's experiences taught him that the modern world is a massive artificial construct that we created but which now dominates. It dictates, we follow. Individuals can swim against the stream but even the flow of the stream is affected by forces beyond us.

I should also add that Miracles of Life was an eye-opener for the sheer clarity and openness of the writing. See, he could do it after all. I will also accept a mild tap on the wrist for one of my other gripes in the article – the fact that the characters in his books very rarely do what any sane person would do and get the hell out of whatever catastrophe they've ended up in. But that was the point, of course, the same way Ballard couldn't get out of Shanghai because it was just too big. At one point he mentions a fellow writer with a "Victorian" ideal of writing – strong characters, plausible dialogue, logical plots. I would say that's not just Victorian, that's latter-day-neo-Elizabethan too, because how dare a writer just write a book and assume everyone will want to carry on reading past the first page? But when you're separated by such a gulf in your basic premises, there's not a lot of point trying to make comparisons. That's probably why I liked The Wind from Nowhere, whereas his one reference to it is, disparagingly, "my only piece of commercial fiction".

I used to think Ballard got his reputation the same way the original Star Trek and Dr Who became cult favourites. It's the difference between what you see and what you take away. Everyone saw the dodgy sets, iffy actors and questionable scripts, but after they turned the TV off the cognoscenti remembered epic tales of time and space and speculative thought. However, that's not quite fair, or indeed true. I'll now concede that Ballard got his reputation by absolutely mastering his chosen field. Easy.

Miracles of Life also confirms my favourite Ballard tale that I've heard from other sources, or at least some of it: that when The Atrocity Exhibition was published by Doubleday in the US, Mr Doubleday had no idea it contained a story called "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan". When he did find out, he ordered the entire run to be pulped. Ballard confirms this part but not the best bit: that he sent one of the surviving author's copies to the then Governor of California with a note saying "I think you ought to see the kind of filth Doubleday are publishing about you."

Ben solves the second homes allowance row

Most will agree that our MPs need a second home. They need a base in London within easy striking distance of Westminster. It's not enough to suggest that they check in at a hotel or a B&B. To do a job like that you need a home where you can just turn up. Most MPs do not use the second home as a pad to put their mistress up in. Non-London based MPs only really need a small flat.

It's also reasonable that certain expenses could be claimed for the second home. They're paid more money than I'll ever make but it's peanuts compared to some London salaries.

The problem arises when they start to juggle the numbers, declaring their "second home" as the one that will benefit them financially the most.

So, whoever is in charge of these things should simply declare that for purposes of Parliamentary expenses, the second home is a wholly-owned property (no more renting bedrooms from siblings) that of all the MP's properties is the one nearest Westminster. Peasy.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Plain walking

It's Sarsen Trail time again, our mostly annual uptake of the 26 mile walk over Salisbury Plain from Avebury to Stonehenge, of which we do the first 11 miles and then get the coach back to the start. Except that this time we did the 15 mile second half, and my outraged legs are still letting me know their thoughts on the matter.

Well, we like a bit of a challenge and we’d always wondered what lies beyond the halfway point. And now we know. A lot of Salisbury Plain, and a very, very, very, very, very long track, for which the term 'wends' was specially invented. The fact that four fifths of the word 'wends' are also in 'endless' cannot be coincidence.

It is also extremely dusty, but you soon learn to walk on the upwind side when traffic comes along.

Weather on the first weekend of May is always a bit of a lottery - some years I've picked up a nice tan, others it's been tipping. This time was a winner, with a mostly bright and breezy day - optimum walking conditions. Getting blisters can always be awkward because you start to favour the unblistered foot and develop a hobble which puts strain in unaccustomed places - but I got a blister on each foot so that all balanced out.

There are pluses and minuses to the second half, quite apart from the extra four miles. The first half takes you over the highest point of Wiltshire and the views are spectacular, but you then go down into the low ground and though the scenery changes, views are never that great again. For the second half, the scenery rarely changes but you can see all the way to the horizon. And you start with a nice view down into the Vale of Pewsey.

The drawback is that having walked for a couple of hours, you'd be happy for a bit of a change, which you don't really get.

The first half takes you through the occasional town and village; the second half just skirts around the military training area. You never see signs like this in the first half.

And I’ve never before been overtaken by Batman & Robin, who were running the parallel Neolithic Marathon.

But the biggest plus of all must be finishing at Stonehenge. So much nicer than grinding to a halt on a lonely hilltop in the middle of the Plain prior to taking a coach back to Avebury. Even granted that the finishing area is some distance removed from the monument, you can still see it as you come over the hill and you really feel you have arrived, um, somewhere. A lady with the kind of voice that was bred to issue orders to servants welcomes you in over the loudhailer and even though your legs may have been on autopilot for the last hour, one foot in front of the other for as long as it takes, you know you made it.

Looking at Wiltshire Wildlife's site I see that the event was the grand climax of Real Nappy Week - probably a coincidence, but a worthy cause nonetheless.