London, baby!

I’ll try and be quick because I’m mega busy at the moment – got a massive week ahead of me and time is precious but I’m trying to keep up the whole ‘frequent blog post’ thing I’ve mentioned in the last few posts so here I am writing this from my brand new ASUS laptop which I set up last night. It’s always interesting to know what the first thing a person does when they get onto a brand new computer; mine was to download Google Chrome (a new web browser made by Google – it’s amazing – try it!) which since it was released last month has been my new primary browser, knocking Firefox down to second (followed by Safari then IE).

I had a great weekend in London with my parents, who I haven’t seen since I moved out a month ago, so it was nice to let them know what I’ve been up to and how my course lectures and my halls life are going. The trip was primarily arranged due to my invitation to London Zoo to be presented with my Queen’s Scout Award but seeing as it was my parents’ wedding anniversary that weekend, we decided to make a weekend trip out of it. I caught the train home after my computing lecture on Friday afternoon and spent the evening at home and we got the coach from Sheffield to London early Saturday morning, a lovely four hour journey, and checked in to our hotel and after a nap we spent the evening in London; we went on the London Eye which I took many many pictures of (and from).

Sunday morning we got up early to get ready for the presentation, headed out for the tube in the pouring rain and made our way to the Zoo! We checked in there and spent some time wandering about checking out the animals and exhibits, then when it was time we went over to the Mappin Pavilion which is where the presentation was held. I hadn’t really any idea what the presentation was going to be like – I hadn’t really thought about it; all I knew was that I would be being presented with my Queen’s Scout Award certificate from Peter Duncan, the Chief Scout (head of the Scout Association) and former Blue Peter presenter. Despite being bang on time, I was the last to arrive (at this point I discover there were just four of us being presented at this time) and was immediately ushered into a sofa while having my coat removed by some sort of organising person, and before I had a chance to take in my surroundings I saw Peter Duncan just ahead of me, shuffling four creamish certificates in his hand to see who was to be first. “Ben Nuttall” he called out, and asked me to step up to join him at the front. I stood up and looked out at the dozens of people applauding – I’m still not really sure why they were all there.

I was put on the spot and suddenly asked by Peter Duncan what I did to achieve my Queen’s Scout Award (for those that don’t know, the Queen’s Scout Award is the highest accomplishment in the Scout movement, and is patroned by the Queen (formerly King’s Scout Award) and achievement involves completion of the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award as well as various other tasks). I completed mine over a year ago; with the most talkable bits happening over a year ad a half ago, so having to reel off a nice little speech about a four-day walking expedition I did in April 2007 was rather awkward but with it being such a memorable four days I managed to share a few entertaining short stories about the hike and mentioned what the purpose of the expedition was and how we ended up finishing it at the pub from ITV’s Heartbeat while they were filming. Peter asked me a few more questions, and we had a good chat about Scouting and the future of the world and I was presented with my long-awaited and well-deserved certificate, photographed a few times, and I took a seat to listen to the next three people and their adventures.

After this we got a chance for more photos and I had a good chat with Peter; I told him about my Grandfather (94 next month!) who met the very first Chief Scout, the founder of the worldwide movement, Lord Baden-Powell. We then talked about the media and their tendency to ruin good news stories with silly headlines and pictures that make the articles lose their point about what Scouting today is all about; outdoor pursuits, adventure, opportunities galore, making something of your youth, preparing for adulthood and showing future employees and such that you have made the most of your youthhood by getting out there and doing something.

We thanked Peter and the organisers for a great presentation and I was congratulated on my achievement once again by those present as we departed. We had a look round the rest of the zoo before heading back via tube to the coach station. Another four hour journey back to Sheffield and a couple of hours chilling out at home before having to get the train back to Manchester, only to find that it had been cancelled. I had to get a train out to Hope in the peak district, wait for a bus there which took me to Stockport, then waited for a train to take me to Manchester (an hour later than planned at quarter-past midnight). I had a maths test in uni at 9am this morning, so I had to do a spot of last minute revision on the train, but without any spare paper I had to take notes on the back of a bank statement I had in my bag!

So after my morning lectures and the maths test today I got my new laptop set up and here we are. I took many photos in London at the weekend.

BCU Student Safety Seminar

I was asked by the chairman of the canoe club if I would like to attend the BCU whitewater student safety seminar with him and the vice chairman, being a fresher who is keen to commit to kayaking and to the club and likely to be seriously involved in the club over the next few years. I jumped at the chance and we went last weekend and had a great time – it was at a whitewater & mountaineering centre called Plas-y-Brenin in North Wales, hosted by some of the greatest kayakers in the UK. It was a great experience for me to hear the opinions about gear, techniques and advice from these well-accomplished paddlers, without it being dictated to me like it has been in the past – it’s great when someone can just give you their personal opinion for what it’s worth, explain and justify it and leave you to hear opposing views and make sure you get the facts, rather than hammer it into you that their way is right.

We arrived at the centre before 9:00am (having got up at 5ish to set off by 6:00am). Not much to report about the journey other than us finding the following joke hilarious at the time (mostly due to lack of sleep):

I spent all yesterday in the garden with my step-ladder; not my real ladder, my step-ladder…

On the Saturday we sat through a seminar with Tom Parker about the importance of safety and avoiding at all costs the chance of an accident happening where you could be left to blame, by simply making using common sense and being sure not to take inexperienced paddlers down rivers beyond their abilities and leaving them in positions where they would be vulnerable to an accident. Then we did a session on ropework where we tested some throwlines (bags of rope used for  rescues by pool lifeguards and canoeists) to see how easily they break, which was interesting! Things like this are really worth sparing no expense on to ensure you’ve got a good one. We did some work on how to manufacture a harness from a short length of rope and use it to climb or abseil a vertical face to get to, our out of, a river and manoeuvre boats in such a situation. Then I attended a talk on how to plan trips abroad from your club, which I think I’m going to pursue this Summer, probably the Alps.

We ended up staying in a grotty bunkhouse with some paddlers from Birmingham University and on the Sunday I put myself down for the session on how to lead and run steep river creeks, where we drove out to some grade four sections of rivers and chucked ourselves off some mental waterfalls and drops. The sort of experience where you do something, then look back on it and think “Woah … that was a bit mad” but it was cool ’cause the session was aimed on how to run it safely, so we got out to inspect each difficulty when uncertainty laid ahead, and spend much time discussing our strategies, choosing our own lines through the water and watching each other to learn from each other’s actions.

The quality (and presence) of safety equipment was very much stressed at this seminar; I now know I need to go out and spend a lot of money on new gear. I underestimated the need for good shoes (yes, canoeists need to wear shoes while boating) because you need to ensure you’re safe when getting out to inspect difficult unfamiliar sections of rivers, and also when getting from the car/van/minibus to the river, and back again, as this can often prove difficult and may require a bit of climbing, lifting boats and setting up rope & pulley systems to get the boats to where they need to be. Another thing I’d overlooked was my helmet, which is perfectly suitable for paddling about on flat water (where the only likely dangers are maybe banging your head on a boat, getty or paddle) but for the sort of thing I’m doing these days I need a good quality full-protection one (not a full-face helmet – but some paddlers do choose to). One of the guys on the course said he doesn’t mind spending £100 on a helmet because, quite frankly, his head is worth more than that. How true.

I haven’t got any pictures from the seminar but here’s one of me (looking rather angry for some reason) on the River Kent in Kendal in the Lake District last weekend:

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Plenty of trips planned for this year. I’m going to try to run as many beginner trips as I do advanced in order to build the confidence in the less-experienced members of the club and get them up to a higher standard so they can paddle higher class rivers. Teaching is just as important as learning. This brings me onto the subject of the link I recently realised between my attitude to parkour and my attitude to kayaking; in parkour I train individual moves and practise everything as much as I can, trying to do vaults on both sides, always working on my weaknesses to try to improve all-round, all this with the aim of linking each individual movement to another in order to execute smooth parkour runs in any situation; in kayaking I train individual skills and practise them on both sides, always working on my weaknesses to try to improve all-round, and then take this to a river where thse skills become needed to execute lines through difficult rapids as well as falls and drops. In both activities I thrive to experiment with different ways of moving, to demonstrate to myself what happens when I make slight alterations in bodily positions and seeing for myself what difference it makes. In both activities I tend to stick to pure methods which help me get from A to B, occasionally dipping into more alternative ways of moving simply to experiment and see if I can learn new moves.

I’ve treated parkour as a discipline over the last three years (my first year of parkour was more about finding my way and realising what I wanted to do than actually training – how are you supposed to train towards something if you don’t know where you’re going?) and now I’ve decided to treat kayaking the same. I’ll be training & coaching every Wednesday evening at the Aquatics Centre and trying to do a river every weekend, sometimes I’ll do a beginner trip on the Saturday and an advanced trip on the Sunday.

I’ll be updating this blog more frequently now and I’ve got my next post planned for after the weekend, so watch this space. I’m seeing my parents when I go home on Friday and we’re spending the weekend in London which will be awesome. I’m also getting my new laptop when I go home – I’m sure that ever since I confirmed purchase of the said laptop (using this desktop PC), and it realised it was being made redundant and replaced by a younger slimmer more portable model, it has purposefully and maliciously decided to boycott me and has been ever so slow. It’s been great these last five years – its spec isn’t anything to shout about but it’s done everything I’ve needed it to do and it’s brought you many blog posts and several videos! But it’s the end of an era and I’m scarily moving on to Vista (dual-boot Linux) and may the new era of portability live long (until it gets replaced by the next technology, of course).

A Fresh Start

I’m now at the end of my third week of university. I’ve moved away from home and now live in halls of residence in Manchester, which is a completely new experience for me. I can cook and generally fend for myself but it’s still very different from being at home. I’m having a wicked time out here and loving the whole Manchester scene – the parkour’s awesome, the bars and clubs are pretty cool, my flatmates are a great bunch of people and I’ve also joined the canoe club which is brilliant.

There are ten of us living in my flat – five boys and five girls – which sounds a lot but I think it works fine. We’ve each got our own room on the corridor and we share a sizey kitchen which we all use at different times so there’s only ever a maximum of two or three of us cooking at once. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people to live with. We’re all from different areas of the country (even one girl from France) and we’re all completely different in person which makes us gel in that we all have something to bring to the group and there are plenty of questions bouncing off each other about all our hobbies, interests and ways of living. We all went out together the first few nights and got to know each other and the city, but now we’re tending to do our own thing in smaller groups (a few of us joined different union clubs) and we’re all settling in to our own ways.

In Freshers’ Week I had no lectures, just introductory sessions. So after two weeks of lectures I’m feeling like I’m definitely on the right course; it’s exactly what I was hoping for and I can see it being challenging enough to be worth doing, I feel like I’ll be learning useful things rather than stuff that’s pointless. My degree title will be BSc (Hons) Mathematics and Computer Studies – I opted for the Combined Honours programme where you pick two separate subjects and do the core modules of each rather than a single course where you do lots of extra modules. This was because I wanted to keep my options open by doing a combination of two subjects and develop a wide range of skills in two fields. Interestingly, the Maths course at my uni is very programming-oriented, and the Computing course is very Maths-oriented, so they’ll go together very well. I’m having to learn two new programming languages: MATLAB and Java.

My modules this year are:

  • Mathematical Fundamentals
  • Programming (Java)
  • Discrete Mathematics
  • Linear Algebra
  • Programming (MATLAB)
  • Computer Platforms
  • Statistics
  • Learning & Employability (lol)

I have the option to select a major and minor next year (i.e. do more Maths modules and fewer Computing, or vice-versa) or just leave it at 50-50. I’ll see how I get on.

Maths started easy (C2) on Day One, then zoomed ahead to FP3 on Day Two, which is way more advanced than I did at A-level, but I understood the lectures and managed to do the questions afterwards so that’s good. I did ICT at GCSE and A-level and learned nothing of any real use to me – everything useful I can do on computers has been self-taught. Schools just don’t teach anything that’s useful to people today. I’m glad to say that so far the Computing lectures and practical classes have been interesting and I can see me getting a lot out of the course.

Yesterday evening I had the best midweek parkour training session for such a long time! There were about 15 of us out, and even Sam Corbett had come over from Sheffield to see a Swiss guy called Tobias who he had met in Lisses who was staying with Scott McQuade. We did some great training for about three hours, we chatted about parkour and there was a brilliant atmosphere within the group. Then Sam departed for his train home, which he missed and so ended up staying the night at mine. We did some more jumps on Oxford Road on the way home and chilled out with a pizza and watched some Futurama! Unfortunately Sam had to set off first thing in the morning to make it back for his lectures but it was nice to have him round. The first overnight guest at my halls.

I absolutely love the location of my accommodation. It’s a maximum of five minutes away from where my lectures are, ten minutes from a massive ASDA and ten minutes from the parkour meet-up spot. Oh and canoeing takes place every Wednesday evening at the Aquatics Centre across the road. I love how I can nip home in between lectures for food or if I forget something – it’s so convenient. I can’t imagine any other way now! I went on a beginners’ river trip in Bury with the canoe club last weekend to get the freshers started (in fact, due to my experience and qualifications they asked me to help lead the trip) and I’m going on an advanced trip on the Kent this weekend! They’ve also asked me to take one of the three places on a BCU Event where you learn how to run a uni canoe club, which should be really informative and exciting! Tomorrow I’ll be showing prospective students around the halls of residence (like I looked round last year).

I can see it’s going to be a wicked three years. Watch this space.