Sunday, February 21, 2010

Benjamin Douglas Hargreaves

Welcome, nephew!

I am sitting in the Cathay lounge, waiting for my flight to Hong Kong, I have just sunk a beer ... and I am marvelling at the last two weeks. No posts in the last fortnight, I know I know - blame - but lots to talk about.

First and foremost, naturally, is my wonderful, mesmerising, delightful (and a little pooey) little nephew, Benjamin Douglas Hargreaves. Benjamin, Ben, Benji, BB (Baby Benjamin), Peanut, B&H ... who knows how he will grow up, but it's with the warmest, most loving mother and father, doting and deliriously happy grandparents, a welcoming home and not a bad uncle too, that he starts his journey. Hi.

He's already demonstrating a canny sense of comic timing - he managed to be born while I was dressed as a woman (ask me some other time), and waited for a full nine days before leaving the hospital, getting home a mere 30 minutes before my arrival in Cambridge. I can only imagine the mischievous giggle of forcing my own mum and dad wait more than a week to finally be allowed to meet him. Indeed, mum was like a greyhound out a gate as the car pulled into Ele's driveway - she was not going to let son #1 delay her first grandson #1 experience. I think I like him already.

I have met plenty of newborns before - bagged-up, wriggly little poo machines that gurgle and coo during regular stinky sessions, scream in the interim, and sleep for short bursts while waiting for fresh milk and chances to decorate the inside of a fresh nappy. With Ben it was a little different; the mild sense of vertigo as Ele leaves the room to have a shower, leaving me with him will be something that stays with me for a long time. The giddy reaction of my whole family watching me change my first ever nappy will be something that I hope leaves a little quicker (aren't his balls big!), but I am sure photographic evidence will prove otherwise. And watching him sleep in my arms, feet twitching in dream, was utterly magical; what is he dreaming about?; it must be blurry ... and based on only a couple of weeks of experiences. Milk or poo, in all probability.

Just try to hold her back! A Grandmother possessed!

Biddle-style greetings.

Unadulterated joy.

Mum & Mum

Sleepy time.


Some more sleepy time.

Just a little more.

No visit back to the UK would be complete without a good trip into the mountains, and we did that, again opting for Wales, and a relative break in the cold and wet / frozen weather of the proceeding weeks. Three days in the mountains getting a little lost, eating up a storm at 'The Best Restaurant in Wales 2008' and delighting in the trials and tribulations of the local farmers in the pub, warmed me up nicely for a trip down to the south to meet up with my aunt and Grandmother (isn't she wicked with a camera!) and set the ball rolling for a few days in the big smoke.

Welsh Rarebit.

Fixer upper.

Tree Cathederal


Mummy, can I have a pony?

Isn't the typography just darling?

My Grandmother is a demon with the camera!

Family business.

A semi-random encounter with Lars (are there any other types?) lit the fuse to a fine weekend in East-Central London, and rattling around with Phil B. Yes we watched Avatar in 3D, no I thought it was tiresome, and yes Phil beat me in frames of pool at Elbow Rooms. But it was great to get some shopping in, peruse the exhibits at the never-less-than awe-inspiring British Museum, and gawp slanty-headed at the modern art exhibits at the Saatchi gallery over in Chelsea with Cressida. All punctuated with a few beers, naturally, and shopping for some treats and eats in the Covent Garden retail zoo.

Brilliant encounter with Lars - all too short!

The sublime Foster & Partners at the British Museum.

Crowds stand, transfixed by the Rosetta Stone.

Elgin Marbles.

In the balls!

Phil appreciates.

Cressida has a irrational phobia of large things standing next to short things... I therefore took great pleasure in finding a room with a large, 10ft-tall child, and a tiny, mini-child in the other corner.

I have been dying to see Richard Wilson's work for years ... on permanent display at the Saatchi Gallery (incidentally, did not enjoy the gallery as a whole as much as I was expecting).

Rich and Phil on the night bus back home ...

After these days of sleeping in cold, lumpy beds, or on floors with little more than sofa cushions on the floor, I was glad to get home and get connected with the house again, and to acquaint myself with Dad's evolving assortment of mechanical delights - this time with rather a handsome BSA Goldstar café racer, complete with gorgeous polished aluminium fuel tank and rocking clip-on handle bars. We cruised the local villages looking for a fight with some local Mods on scooters, but had to head home, disappointed and shivering after the chilly air of the Fens got the better of us. Round-2 in the TVR was a little more successful, but no less noisy than the 1950s racing exhaust pipes of the BSA that caused involuntary snapping of heads, of grandfathers pushing pushchairs and disapproving stares of their wives ("no you cannot get one").

Giving it a bit of welly.



Only in Cambridge ... found on our MTB ride to St. Ives.

Serious downtime this week was just what was needed. Coming up to six years in Taiwan (six!) without an extended break at home can wear a little thin. The timing of the holiday could not have been better timed; not only for obvious family reasons, but also because a change of roles at Dell means absolutely nothing pending on my mind, my head full of bright thoughts, and zero to-do list (I took very great pleasure in systematically deleting every last appointment from Outlook). With no stress and great family news, I am at-present feeling completely relaxed ... I recommend it!

In that vein, I must also mention; I was coming through the x-ray screening area and removed my laptop for inspection. Upon preparing to slide it back into my bag, the man behind me said "Hey, I couldn't help but notice your laptop there - what is it?". When I explained it was a just released model and explaining where to get one, I couldn't resist telling him who designed it. "Kudos!" ... and one very x-ray happy traveller!

Back to vacay: the last couple of days were again devoted to family, and shaking out every last moment of time with Benji (my favourite name for him). Wrapped up in a ridiculous woolly outfit for a hike in the winter sun avec famille Wimpole Hall, he looked like a perfect bundle of joy, and I am sure he has a wonderful, bright future ahead. I do have some explaining to do in about 18 years though, when I explain why I was dressed as a woman when he arrived. My plan to craft an image of being his roguish, dangerous and mildly unhinged uncle are off to a great start!

A meeting of minds. Welcome, Benjamin!

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Midsummer Madness

Usually, when heading back to the UK, a healthy two-week window is necessary to really get over the jet lag and calm down properly. I didn't quite have that luxury this time, however, and was restricted to one week of British Summer Time, Tour de France and Wimbledon.

Super tent in the garden, filled the space to a tee!

Jess looks cheeky, as ever.

Just super to meet all the family members that I miss out on, while away! ... and play with a silly Holga lens mod present that I had bought for Abe.

However, what it lacked in duration, it more than made up for in intensity. No sooner had I landed, a pig had been slaughtered and spit-roasted in the name of my Dad's 60th birthday, family members had descended from around the UK and I had sunk a few 'test pints' from the professional-quality draft beer tap(s) installed for the event. And thankfully for my Dad, Andy Murray was not in the Wimbledon final, or the party would have surely been significantly less well-attended. A blur of catchings up and barely a moment of sitting down, and the first weekend was dispatched.

A nice cup of tea to round off a good ol' tea party.

After meeting up with Phil, Rich and a couple of other friends in London, I take the fast train up to Birmingham to meet with Mum and Dad for a couple of days of hiking. I had not spent much time in the north of Wales before, so it was great to sleep in the shadow of Snowdon; tallest mountain in England and Wales (I love how England feels it can claim other countries' mountains as its own... Month Blanc, the tallest mountain in England and France).

Sheep sheep sheep. Wales.

I had always thought of Snowdon as a particularly boring hill, such as it is plumbed-in with a train to the summit and images of Victorian ladies getting taking their afternoon constitutional. It was with such a false sense of postcard security that we attempted 'Crib Goch' - the most challenging of the approaches to the summit, and reading here, 'a Class-1 scramble in good weather, it should be considered a climb in poor conditions'.

Happily ignoring this, we attempted it anyway, and fell in behind a group of experienced climbers with ropes. Right then. Ideal conditions for Team Biddle to begin our ascent!

The climbing was not extremely technical, but as we gained altitude, our confidence in the available hand grabs and invisible foot-holds faded somewhat. Trusting yourself to lift yourself up and around tall pillars of rock, when there is a several hundred metre drop on one side was not for the faint-hearted. No matter how firm the holds seemed, we were glad to be shadowing an experienced set of climbers, and shook our head worryingly as we inspected the ridge heading off into the distance.

Starting off slowly.

Almost time for a breather

Planning ahead

Views from half-way along were formidable.

I barely dared take out my big new camera, relying instead on snapping away with my little Ixus!

Incredulous smiles!

Kinky boots

Clouds in the distance

And clouds. Having cleared the first section, and after wedging ourselves into the rocks at a minor summit to gorge and sandwiches and chocolate, the clouds descended and we lost contact with the leading group. An eerily expansive acoustic edge accompanied the final set of pinnacles, and we guessed that through the mist and clouds were drops ever increasing in height. It was with no shortage of glee, then, to happen upon the railway tracks up to the cafe at the top, and the best-tasting cuppa tea in England and Wales.

The North Face.

A long way down

Vultures circling

Looking back, as the clouds roll in

This was definitely a good idea. I am sure.


Dropping in for a final night of food and drink in Birmingham with Jess, I took the slow train back to Cambridge, packed up, and readied myself for one more long flight back to Asia. Fair England, how I do miss thee.

... enjoy this video of some far braver souls, as they traverse the knife edge. Imagine, while watching it, me straddling the apex, legs both pointing straight down to different valleys. Not quite the dare devil!

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