Saturday, June 16, 2018

Talking lost crag blues...

Craig y Dwr, Cwm Crafnant taken last week.
The climbing community both here in north Wales and further afield in areas like the English Lake District, have in recent years, been much more more pro-active in trying to save traditional crags from disappearing under vegetation. Holding crag clean-up days where activists gather with loppers, saws and spades and clear the pathways to the crags, or dangle on shunts and hack out gorse and heather from cracks, or brush off moss and lichen which render routes un-climbable.
Tremadog has in recent years seen 'Tremfest'; organized by the BMC, this gathering is aimed at extending the range of routes at Tremadog to include those less popular but nevertheless, still worthwhile routes which- compared to the classics like Poor Man Peuterey, Vector, Merlin and One Step in the Clouds- get relatively little traffic.

Late last year I attended a crag clean up at Craig Dinas near Betws y Coed. A crag which despite the quality of its routes, its incredible location looking out on the beautiful Lledr Valley, its sunny, south facing aspect and the fact that it has a good pub-The Silver Fountain-at its base, is relatively unfrequented and the approaches can become unpleasant bushwhacks without regular attention. When I was up there last week,the approach was still fairly clear although the horrible gorse which runs riot at the top of the crag is starting to encroach on the path again.

A crag clean up was planned for Craig y Dwr, the imposing crag in Cwm Crafnant for this week, but a quick reccee by the organiser earlier this week, revealed that at this moment in time, in the height of summer, the bracken and heather beneath and above the crag would make it a difficult undertaking so its been postponed until later in the year when its died back a bit.

Although Craig y Dwr has never been a major Snowdonia crag, it does nevertheless hold some quality climbs. Not least 'Ron Jame's 'Vypon' which has in the past, been included in compendiums of North Wales classic climbs. I climbed there once. Nearly 20 years ago and it was still approachable and the routes were clean. Now it appears that the crag has been totally abandoned and never sees any visitors.

With crags like Dinas, Dwr and even Tremadog climbs getting little or no traffic these days, it speaks volumes about climbing's changing culture. There is no one reason why few people climb in Crafnant Valley any more. Despite its beauty, the quality of its climbs and its accessibility. Rather, there are several factors at work. Probably the main reason is the fact that Traditional Climbing has fallen victim to what younger climbers in particular seek from the activity. Why slog up to a crag which is outside of the popular orbit of most climbers, when you can play around on road side boulders or sport yourself on a bolted sports route? Then there is the ease by which you can climb abroad where sunshine and dry rock is almost guaranteed.

Another factor is competition from other activities which now entice would be climbers away from rock and winter climbing. Road and Mountain biking in particular has become phenomenally popular in the last decade. Parascending, Skiing, Fell Running, etc. etc. All activities more popular than ever. 2018, what is the future for crags like Craig Dinas and Craig Dwr? Trying to be positive, one would hope that these crag clean up days and the subsequent publicity, will entice more climbers to sample what's on offer hereabouts. The alternative and for me at least, the more likely scenario will be that these crags and areas like Crafnant will eventually return entirely back to nature.

Craig Dinas Clean Up Day. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Crag Access.... Still hazy after all these years.

Anyone who has followed my occasional musings through this medium will have cottoned on to the fact that one thing which continues to raise my blood pressure, is the ongoing issue of public access to private land and our right to roam freely and without hindrance, threats and intimidation from farmers and landowners. Despite the Blair government with its huge majority, promising the public a right to roam act, in line with most modern European countries, all we were ever given was a half baked Countryside Rights of Way Act- (CroW) which as my late father would say 'Is neither me arse nor me elbow' !!!

I have blogged previously on my own experiences of being intercepted by farmers and landowners when simply walking across  the uplands and being told to in effect 'Get orf my land'. Now I hear that climbers attempting to climb on a little outcrop in the Capel Curig area were stopped by the farmer upon whose land it lies, despite the fact that the crag is slap bang in the middle of Snowdonia CroW access land where under the act, activities such as walking and climbing are supposed to be allowed. Yet another example of landowners ignoring the legislation in the same way that traditional fox hunts, flagrantly ignore the bloodsports ban and carry on killing in the knowledge that the local police authorities will turn a blind eye.Not surprising I guess, given that the hunt masters, landowners and Chief Constables are probably in the same masonic lodge!

But to get back to this latest incident. Craig Eithin is a small dolerite slab on the rough moorland plateau between Capel Curig and Crafnant valley. It lies close to the Birmingham based Yeti club hut at Waen Hir and it has been climbed on for decades. It has never appeared in a Carneddau climbing guidebook previously but it will be included in the next Carneddau guide. Along with several other 'new' crags which have been developed in recent years. I myself have climbed and named several lines here, although given the crags unrecorded history, no first ascent details will be given when the crag finally appears in print or online. However, it is a lovely place to while away a sunny afternoon or evening. Climbing mostly lower middle grade climbs around the VS grade on rough pink rock with a spectacular outlook towards Yr Wyddfa.

Quite simply, the farmer has absolutely no right to stop people climbing here. However, no one wants to face an aggressive farmer and argue the toss so in 99% of cases, I guess that climbers told to clear off will clear off.

Its depressing to note how ineffective the Snowdonia National Park Authority is when it comes to access issues. It always seems as if they prefer to support the landowner over the general public so consequentially we have this festering issue where the farmers and landowners, emboldened by the SNPA's hand's off approach, maintain their intimidatory tactics and continue to bully the public from exercising its legal right of access. The BMC-operating from the premise that you get more with honey than vinegar-operate a softly softly approach when dealing with access issues in England and Wales when in fact a 'Kinder Scout' approach would, in my opinion, work far better when dealing with the redneck element of the farming community. In the mean time, it's 2018 and we still continue to be denied the most basic right to travel freely and unimpeded in the uplands . At this rate we'll still be denied the right to roam a hundred years from now.

What this proves to me is that those charged with improving access for the general public are simply not up to the task and we need a far more determined and aggressive approach when it comes to facing down these Victorian clowns. Oh for a modern day Benny Rothman to organise an alternative Access movement which will be pro-active on issues like the one highlighted, and use direct action when faced with a denial of our rights. A marked contrast to the current,continuing supine approach of the SNPA and the BMC .

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Welsh Pine Marten and the German Energy Company

The news that the extremely rare Pine Marten is resident in Clocaenog Forest in North East Wales, will both delight and sadden those of us who welcome this iconic creature’s presence in this vast afforested area. Delight that such a rare creature has in recent years, been showing signs of come back in areas where it was previously extinct. But extremely saddened by the fact that as we speak, a massive wind farm development in the forest, undertaken by agencies working on behalf of the German Energy Company,  RWE-Innorgy, is currently trashing its natural habitat. This is in direct disregard of the 1981 Wildlife act which gives full protection to the Pine Marten. Ironically, the legislation can be found on the Natural Resources Wales website, despite the fact that the unlawful actions are being carried out on a forest estate under NRW management! The act states....

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) gives full protection to pine martens under Schedule 5. It is also listed on Schedule 6, which prohibits certain methods of capture and killing.For Schedule 5 species, the following are offences:

    Intentional taking, killing or injuring
    Intentionally / recklessly damaging or destroying its place of shelter / protection *
    Intentionally / recklessly disturbing it whilst occupying its place of shelter / protection *
    Intentionally / recklessly obstructing access to its place of shelter / protection *
    Sale, or offering / exposing for sale

As we can see, Innogy is currently in violation of three of those clauses yet today- 27/5/18- its contractors continue to use heavy plant machinery to clear and create the infrastructure to accommodate twenty seven  145m high (to blade tip) wind turbines.

Cynics amongst us will probably observe that profits generally trumps Environmental Protection and Conservation. With the multi billion dollar company about to change hands with yet another German company Eon buying the Innogy division, it is not exactly insightful to note that generally, our legislators are in the pockets of the City and the multi nationals when it comes to planning applications. Across the political spectrum, legislators in Brussels, London and Cardiff will nearly always be sympathetic to these large energy projects. Seduced as they are to corporate spin which inevitably exaggerates the number of jobs created, the amount of electricity produced and the negative impact on the natural environment. It is left to local councils like Conwy and Denbighshire who are responsible for Clocaenog’s planning applications, to rubber stamp these projects as instructed. Although a large development like Clocaenog, are often taken out of local authority responsibility and waved through in London.

Although it is highly unlikely that such a profitable enterprise will be stopped in its Caterpillar tracks, we can at least bear witness to the hypocrisy of our legislators, bureaucrats and business leaders.  In the mean time, pity the poor Pine Marten. Like so much of our flora and fauna in Wales, a victim of mankind’s insatiable greed and mindless ignorance.


Monday, May 21, 2018

YouTube Creators: Searching for the Yankee Dollar.

Highly successful You Tube creator Thomas Heaton's YT Page. With over a quarter of a million subscribers, his monetarized channel generates a sizable income but does churning out vlogs blunt a successful YouTuber's creativity?

'YouTube is an American video-sharing website headquartered in San Bruno, California. The service was created by three former PayPal employees—Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim—in February 2005. Google bought the site in November 2006 for US$1.65 billion; YouTube now operates as one of Google's subsidiaries. '...Wikipedia

Of all the distinct elements of the Internet, the ability for ordinary people to create videos which can be hosted and distributed globally for free, is one of the 20th century's greatest creative innovations. Twenty years ago, who would have imagined that with camcorders, cameras and eventually mobile phones, the person in the street could create a video on any subject that takes their fancy and download it on to the Internet! A wedding in Bootle which a long lost relation in Australia could watch on the same day. Someone explaining how to change an oil filter on a VW Golf or how to make Eggs Benedict.

In fact, there is virtually nothing under the sun which cannot be found on YouTube and if you have an interest in say classic cars, rock climbing or fixing computers, it's all there waiting to found with a few words in the search box.

In these days of multi faceted media, old fashioned terrestrial TV has been taking a battering from the new digital leviathans like Netflix and Amazon who stride the Internet, conquering all before them. Of course YouTube fits into this new media age with its content available to view on modern TV sets. I tend to watch YouTube on TV because visually its a hell of a lot better than watching on a phone or laptop. Traditionally YouTube viewers tended to watch videos on mobile devices but there has been a massive shift recently to TV viewing of the channel and the company are shifting their emphasis on the big screen as advertisers are aware that their glossy multi million dollar ad campaign will look a lot more striking on a 48” HD screen than a crappy iPhone 5!

I'm certainly one of those converts to TV YouTube viewing and certainly watch a lot more on the channel than I watch terrestrial TV, which apart from the occasional drama or documentary holds little interest for me. Like most regular YT viewers I have my favourite creators whose channels I subscribe to. Generally Van Life series, wild camping/outdoorsy stuff and some quirky things like narrow boating and one or two off the wall channels. One of the things I've noticed about YT creators however. The more successful they become, the less compelling their videos are for me. For the really big players with subscribers in six figures, I've noticed that my interest in their content winds down in relation to their output. The problem is, success appears to bring a change in philosophy. No longer are vlogs produced to entertain and communicate with like minded souls. Vlogs are produced to make money! Most of these successful YT vloggers monetize their channels so that Google- who own YouTube- pay them based on the advertising which precede their videos. The more subscribers the more hits; the more hits the more money!

Consequentially, YT creators have a financial interest in churning out vlogs to keep the financial pot boiling. Quantity replaces quality. Unfortunately, a lot of my favourite YT creators have fallen into this creative black hole. The other side effect of this splurge in production is that for the viewer,familiarity breeds contempt. Overkill equals boredom. What was once an intimate and entertaining engagement with a creator becomes a shallow experience and paradoxically-for me at least- as the creator's audience grows, monetisation loosens the bonds of kinship. Sadly, the commercialization doesn't end there as creators begin to use sponsors and include advertising on their vlogs. The ultimate commercial insult to me is when they start holding out the begging bowl of Patreon. If you are not familiar with Patreon well basically it is a YT creator asking for a paid membership subscription for their channel in return for 'exclusive' previews, out-takes and other equally pointless rewards.

A while back I started downloading the odd video to YT as a form of personal diary without linking any of these vids to my social network accounts, on a camcorder then digital cameras and my editing skills left a lot to be desired. Lots of shaky camera work, poor sound quality, clunky editing and guaranteed to have the viewer reaching for the back button on their keyboard or the return button on their TV remote! However, in the last year I've invested in drones,cameras, decent mics and various accessories which have improved the quality somewhat and my editing skills have got a touch better. To my surprise I've got a few dozen subscribers who appear to have taken something out of some of the vlogs. Although their appears to be no rhyme nor reason to viewing habits. One video might receive a couple of dozen views while another is in the thousands...weird??? But given that I'm unlikely to ever match say Thomas Heaton or Kombi Life for subscribers I feel pretty safe in saying that the dubious rewards of commercialization will never be an issue for me!

But back the the main thrust of this piece; Monetization, sponsorship and holding out the Patreon begging bowl oft times, really screws up the artistic value of a YT creator's work in my opinion. It's a shame how so many of my once favourite vloggers have lost their creative mojo and are now just churning out any old rubbish just to fill their channel with content and their back account with dollars.The concept of 'less is more' an alien concept to the these creators it sadly appears.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Eyeless in Gaza :The Rogue States we're in.

The terrible events in Palestine this week with Israeli snipers so far killing 62 Palestinians, including an 8 month old baby and a man in a wheelchair, has been met with widespread rage and despair by anyone with an ounce of humanity and empathy. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the lunatics are running the asylum and the actions of thugs like Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are nothing more than we have come to expect. Two powerful rogue states locked in a deadly embrace. Israel of course as the junior partner, is fully aware that it can basically do what it wants and the USA will either back it to the hilt, excuse its excesses or just turn a blind eye. We are aware that Trump and Netanyahu are basically Nazi bigots, what is more depressing is the appalling spineless reaction of the UK government and most EU states. Ireland to its credit, Turkey and South Africa have recalled their ambassadors from Israel but the May government -as to be expected - have displayed the morality and authority of a Parish Pump council in the Cotswolds. May of course claims to be a practising Christian but surprising, the slaughter of unarmed protestors has left her curiously unmoved it appears?

Within the main stream media, most outlets including the BBC, ITV and Sky have described the Gaza massacre as 'Clashes'. Just to point out to these establishment toadies that a clash is what happens when two sides come together in conflict. This was not a coming together of two competing sides, this was a massacre of innocents by a heavily armed nation which receives billions of dollars worth of arms and military aid from the USA every year. Those killed ,were killed by cowardly Israeli snipers using American manufactured weapons.

We have heard so much from those on the right in the UK in recent weeks, including Labour Friends of Israel and the Board of Deputies of British Jews about anti Semitism in the Labour Party. For many this is a totally fallacious campaign which has more to do with smearing and undermining Jeremy Corbyn and the left by his ideological opponents than it has to do with anti Semitism, which like religious bigotry and racism is essentially the preserve of the political right. No surprise then that the appalling Labour Friends of Israel offered a typically spineless and pusillanimous statement-

' Hamas must accept responsibility for these events. Their successful attempts to hijack peaceful protest as a cover to attack Israeli border communities must be condemned by all who seek peace in the Middle East.”

So far there has been a deafening silence from the normally loquacious spokespersons for the Board of Deputies of British Jews; prominent Jewish anti Corbyn voices like Maureen Lipman, the Guardians' frocks and flics columnist Hadley Freeman, editor of the right wing Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard and prominent Jewish Centrist Guardian writer, Jonathan Freedland, on the atrocity? They've normally got so much to say when there's Witch Hunt on but this time...not a peep!

The definition of anti Semitism traditionally was a person or organisation which was …...
' Hostile to or prejudiced against Jews. ' The reactionary elements which prevail through the words and actions of conservative Jewish organisations like the aforementioned Board of Jewish Deputies seeks to extend it to anyone who criticises the state of Israel. We should should never give in to this attempt to stifle debate and criticism of what is after all an apartheid rogue state. 

John Appleby 


Monday, May 14, 2018

Scott Hutchison: 'I'm trapped in a collapsing building'

Scott and Frightened Rabbit performing at the Manchester Academy 2 a few years ago. Sadly, the only time I saw them live.
I was surprised at just how upset I was by the death of Scott Hutchison. Founder and singer with the Scottish Indie band, Frightened Rabbit. I discovered the band when I accidentally landed on an obscure BBC Alba music show called Rapal..I was instantly hooked and set off to unearth their back catalogue. Pretty soon. 'A winter of mixed drinks', 'The midnight organ fight' and later 'Pedestrian Verse' and 'Painting of a Panic Attack' became my driving soundtrack with the band's stirring, almost anthemic songs guaranteed to lift the spirits. Ironic in the circumstances, given what I now learn was songwriter Scott's long term battle with depression. And doubly so as I listen to those songs now with this new perspective and can now hear Scott virtually scripting his end through songs written over a decade. In the much referenced 'Floating in the Forth', he writes...

“And fully clothed, I float away
(I'll float away)
Down the Forth, into the sea
I think I'll save suicide for another day.'

It is as brutally prophetic as John Lennon being shot in the film 'How I won the war' and exclaiming, 'I knew it would end like this'. As a Frightened Rabbit fan it always felt like you were one of a small number of blessed devotees. While others listened to pap and exclaimed 'Frightened Who???, you could smile and count yourself fortunate to one of their small number of devotees. Of course this was palpably not true. Although FB were never a U2 or Coldplay in popularity stakes, the band did have a sizeable following. Not only in Scotland and the UK but in America where their gigs were generally sold out but also, their creative output- downloads, vinyl and CD sales and YouTube video hits- suggested here was a band with a healthy following.

This was bourne out by the fact that the news of Scott's initial disappearance and subsequent death was the most viewed story on the BBC News page and featured heavily in the national newspapers in the UK. The band's Painting of a Panic Attack also started selling heavily again on Amazon. Obviously being bought by people who probably had never even heard of the band before Scott's disappearance.

The real tragedy is bourne by Scott's close friends and family but of course the real victim here was Scott who like so many young men-75% of suicides are males-carried the heavy burden of depression around with him like albatross. For those of us who get 'a bit down' now and again, it is impossible to contemplate just how much further down those with serious depression and mental health issues are on the blues scale. Throwing yourself off a bridge into a cold river is beyond the ken of most of us and therefore we cannot get our heads around the fact that for some people,life is not seen as a gift but a curse.

If we can learn anything from this then perhaps it is that we should always treat our fellows with kindness and just do the right thing. It might sound trite in the circumstances but how many of us have said things or reacted negatively to someone we love. Through ignorance, ego, vanity or just sheer bloody mindedness? I know I have and in the words of Scott's penultimate tweet we should be minded to 'Be good to everyone you love, it's not a given. I'm so annoyed that its not. I didn't live by that standard and it kills me.Please, hug your loved ones'

Amen to that.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Celebrity Charity Porn

Victoria Pendleton and Ben Fogle:They want your money!

The news that celebrity TV presenter Ben Fogle and sportswoman Victoria Pendleton are climbing Everest to raise money for the Red Cross should-in normal circumstances-elicit  a positive response from anyone who admires selfless individuals doing something taxing and daring to improve the lives of those who have suffered tragedy or fallen into hardship. So why did I feel a fleeting sense of unease when I read the news?

Probably because like a lot of people I have become rather cynical of what has been described as ‘Celebrity Charity Porn’. Whether its Red Nose Day, Children in Need, Sports Relief, Comic Relief, etc.The normal drill sees white, millionaire celebrities and sportspeople travelling to impoverished communities in Africa, Nepal and the Middle East followed of course, by a TV crew. There they will mingle with the natives, play high 5‘s with an emaciated smiling child. Talk earnestly to camera about how X cannot grow enough to feed his family because of drought; shed a few tears and fly back to their gated mansion in Henley on Thames.

You could say that it is an national disgrace that here in 2018 we still rely on that Victorian concept of charity to ease the burden of the poor and suffering. Surely a modern progressive state should be able to ease the burden of the poor and suffering through progressive taxation and made the whole concept of charity a thing of the past? Internationally of course, we cannot change governments and dictate how they treat their citizens, but wealthy Western states could at least use their huge economic clout to make sure that poorer countries enjoy a fair and equitable trading arrangements with the west. And not- as outlined here recently in the case of EU produce dumping in Africa- exploit these countries to the advantage of western corporations. Thereby making it easier for corrupt, despotic regimes in the third world to exploit the economic turmoil in these countries and continue the economic waterboarding of their people.

Getting back to this country-the UK- then I come back to the total poverty of imagination which allows us to accept charity as normal and good. When it fact it should not be normal in 2018 in the 5th or 6th-whatever week it is- richest country in the world. As I write this, the economic contribution from the general public to help alleviate suffering is rising rapidly instead of going down. Mainly this is due to the ideological approach of the current government and the previous Blair/Brown governments who pursued Neo Liberal economic policies which see the rich get richer and the poor poorer. So...instead of moving towards an economic model where the state positively intervenes to tackle poverty and suffering, conversely, it now steps further and further away from these responsibilities and passes the buck to organized charities, funded by the public.

Obviously, nothing is going to change anytime soon. Western governments will still pursue the same economic policies which wreak havoc on the lives of the weakest members of their own countries and those in the third world. The spectacle of the millionaire celebrity fronting a charity campaign and urging us to dig ever deeper into our stretched pockets to help those with no pockets at all, isn’t going to go away any time soon. Maybe just maybe though, more and more people might ask themselves ‘why are we doing the government’s job for them?’ It is not beyond the realms of possibility for us to elect politicians who instead of wasting £100 billion on an immoral and totally pointless nuclear weapons system like Trident, instead turn those ‘swords into ploughshares’ and spend those taxes on crazy stuff. Like health, education, the environment and welfare!

If you do want to give money to the Red Cross event though, then just click on
Red Cross Appeal