Lords of the Desert

This has been on my shelf for a long time, not because I didn’t want to read it but because I was quite looking forward to it and wanted to read it at the right time. I was disappointed. While it gave me some of the desired background knowledge of the region, it became far too bogged down in unnecessary detail in my opinion. It also did not join up well with the political situation today or even the last few decades. While undoubtedly this would have been a huge undertaking, I think spanning a period continuous with today, it would have been more accessible. Other than that, the writing was quite essay like and while not completely stuffy, it was just a bit dull. Probably avoid unless you have a real interest in the minutiae of the period between ’45 and ’60 ish. 

Box 88

Bought on a whim and was accordingly wary that it would be a bit of a trashy thriller with little substance. In this case, I really lucked out. I absolutely loved this book. Written thoughtfully and with sophistication, it adds an unexpected coming of age element to the story with a hint of classic and plausible espionage that has been diluted in so many modern equivalents. This is just a really well written book and I will be looking into reading the next installment which is apparently out soon. 

Human Kind

This book is all about how we as humans are inherently kind rather than the more popular believe that we are not. Call me a cynic but I found this book a bit naive. Although it would be lovely to think that even Hitler and the like were just fluffy bunnies underneath it all, the author cherry picks science to fit his theory rather than the other way round. While an interesting exploration of many of the pyschological experiments that have taken place on this subject, the biased analysis of it all falls far short of credible and for me just got me quite frustrated. 

Wild Camp in Cornwall

You may or not remember my wild camping trip last year with my mate Rich. It was such a success that we vowed to do it again. This is the one where we do it again.

This time, we decide to get a bit more ambitious. A number of years ago Rich and his wife decided to abandon me and move down to the coast. Treachery aside, it does mean that I have friends and (crucially) a base in Cornwall from which I can stage an epic camping trip if needed. Rich has had his eyes on the south west cost path (a pathway of such significance that I was unsure whether or not to capitalise it – having just looked it up, it turns out I should have done) for a while now. This path extends for 630 miles from Somerset all the way round the Devon and Cornwall coasts, ending up in Pool in Dorset. It even has its own website. For a path, I think that is pretty impressive.

Our aim for this trip was to tackle a small section of it over a couple of days, camping on the open road each night while we did so. Rich’s plan was to start in a small, innuendo-friendly bay called Welcombe Mouth. From there we would camp our first night and set off southwards towards the town of Bude and, should the wind be behind us and the carbohydrates within us, beyond.

Logistically we (I) was struggling to see how we could start in one place, finish in another and then exfiltrate ourselves using the same infiltration method we’d started with. I hadn’t counted on Rich’s excellent wife who was happy to drop us off at the beginning and pick us up when we’d had enough a couple of days later.

Trip sorted. The weather is another issue. Of course for the entire journey there, it pelts it down with rain, but as soon as we arrive in the welcome mouth of Welcombe Mouth, the rain leaves us and the evening sun creeps out from behind the clouds in a really rather generous fashion. As a result, the waterproofs never see the light of day.

For dinner, we build a fire on the beach, strewn with logs and pebbles after a brief discussion on whether the tide is likely to swallow us up before we’ve even opened up our beers. We decide it won’t, so we open up our beers. Proven correct, we enjoy a seabass and vegetable foil dinner that Rich had already prepared. Such is the quality of this meal that, frankly, I would have been happy with it in a posh restaurant. Aside from a rogue pocket of hot slate that explodes out of the fire and a small rockfall that falls on the exact spot we’d initially set up on, we enjoy a superb evening looking out onto the open ocean. The vista we look out on is worthy of a desktop screensaver.

As night falls, we set our tents up on the cliff and, apart from a lone van in the car park, we are the only ones in the whole valley. At one stage, just as the light is all but gone, I become convinced that the headlights of the van flash at us from across the other side of the stream that runs through the valley. “Doggers,” says Rich casually. I can’t quite tell if he is joking but from that point on, I keep a close, untrusting eye on that van until we leave the next day.

Generally speaking, during the nights when I am camping, I invariably get a very cold nose. This one is no exception. I’m convinced it is ever since I got an elbow to the face while playing football. As we pack up the next morning and hike out of the valley, tents and all on our backs, I speak to Rich about my idea for a nose cosy. I would call it a ‘nosie’. He doesn’t really say anything but, tellingly, neither does he laugh so I can only assume he loves the idea.

The path itself is breathtakingly scenic, something we discover through the course of the morning. Nothing quite beats looking out on a sunny seascape whilst watching a frolicking seal in the surf. On the other hand, quite a lot of things beat lugging a backpack of a weight equivalent to Matt Hancock’s conscience up and down the steep sides of each valley. The coastal path is rife with streams running into the sea, each with its own deep carving through the cliff tops and so what is quite a short distance as the crow flys turns out to be a hell of a lot more in reality. After one particularly strenuous climb, Rich almost bunders into a hedgerow just as a nice lady bids us a good morning. Ah to have been a crow.

By midday I feel like I’ve worked my gluteal muscles so fully that I would feel reasonably confident opening a can of baked beans using just the cheeks. Lunch is taken in a small gulley through which a babbling stream runs and from which we replenish our water supply. Luckily Rich has one of those water filters so thankfully neither of us subsequently die as a result. I come up with the idea of camping slippers.

After lunch, we set off back into the Cornish countryside (we had already crossed the border from Devon to Cornwall earlier that day). As we approach a cool-looking government radio station, we pass some walkers. Not just any walkers though; they mean business. I hadn’t realised but the South West Cost Path (capitalised) is kind of a big deal and people really do go all in on it. If you’re trying to do the whole thing then to miss even a small section out is sacrilege. Such is the opinion of the cheerful gentleman who passes us coming the other way. Apparently we are on a small detour inland which he too has mistakenly taken. He informs us cheerfully that he is retracing his steps in order to ‘do it properly’. It can only be a few 100 yards difference.

A little while later, he catches up with us (he doesn’t have Matt Hancock’s conscience on his back) and, with a spring in his step, declares “caught you up.” Stating the obvious I think to myself, while smiling back at him. To my shock, he then adds the following words verbatim… “And my anal fixation has been satisfied.” Must be the man from the van I ponder. I am too otherwise appalled to say anything out loud.

It’s a long afternoon of hiking but we eventually make it to some semblance of civilisation (a café on a fairly isolated surfing beach) where we grab some drinks and realise we have both been cultivating an impressive sun burn on our faces, necks and arms since we began earlier in the day. I buy some sun cream and aloe vera (pricey) and a snickers (affordable).

We begin to debate where we are going to camp. It is tempting to retrace our steps a way to a suitable spot seen earlier. The opposing temptation however is to carry on, even though we are approaching the outskirts of Bude, making it harder to find a place to camp without being blatantly obvious. We choose the latter option and live to regret it. More quickly than we had anticipated, Bude looms into view and we are forced to get a bit posh and pay a local farmer £10 to camp in his field. Not quite wild camping then but we do have access to one of the best equipped portaloos I have ever had the pleasure of using. We have noodles for dinner with a view of the ocean over the cliffs and I note how manly my hands look as a result of the work they have had to take on during our journey. I invent the word mands which I think is my best suggestion yet but Rich doesn’t look so sure.

The next morning we pack up and head into town where we have an excellent fry-up and a big coffee, (Rich has some sort of mocktail that I don’t know the name of). I buy some more butane for my camping stove in a department store straight out of the 80s after which we climb out of Bude back onto the cliffs to continue our journey.  I stop at one point to look at the lifeguard trucks below. Purely by coincidence, I have been watching a lot of Baywatch recently and I get a bit excited.

We stop every so often to apply our newly acquired sun cream and I eat a protein bar that tops any other protein bar I have ever had. As we grow wearier, we decide to pinpoint our exfil site – a beach not much further where we can eat lunch and await Rich’s wife to rescue us. The beach we get to is a bit ropey to be honest. We pass the ‘Beach House Hotel’ which looks like the house from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and decide to eat instead at the local café. I’m glad we do as the tartar sauce sachets they have there are cutting edge.

After lunch, we decide to retreat to the one pub in the bay for the final stages and, in contrast to the scenic tranquillity of the British coast we’ve just experienced, we witness the human element to this landscape. We watch with interest as five generations of one family race around on the mini go kart track outside as we sip on much anticipated pints of Doombar. There is a parrot in a cage in one corner and a child plays nearby who we can only assume is feral. In fairness to the locals, the breeding pool is small.

Overall, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our journey over the last 2 days. According to Rich’s calculations, we have covered 15 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation. Rich is keen to get home now to address the ‘chafeage’ he has endured around his waistline (of all places) and I need to apply ice to my shoulders which feel as if they have been compressed beneath several tonnes of Matt Hancock’s promises.

Until next time.

Rivers of London

I picked this as a simple read after a heavy non-fiction. I’d had it recommended to me and so thought I’d give it a whirl. It is essentially a police procedural in a fantasy version of London. For me, it didn’t quite come off. It was fairly mundane and the fantasy aspects just didn’t gel together. It felt as if it had been edited to within an inch of its life, no doubt to make it into a fast reading page turner and I do wonder if a more fleshed out version exists somewhere.

Either way, a middle of the road story at best, a bit like an average episode of the Doctor Who reboots stretched into an entire book. There’s a lot of other books in the series as I understand but I don’t think I’ll be giving them a read. 

Shock Doctrine

This read like an essay for the most part so no easy reading. However, it was incredibly interesting in parts and quite depressing to be honest. Certainly written from a very left wing perspective and bias but the content is pretty undeniable and scary. 

Interestingly the events of the last decade seem to have followed on from where they left off when she wrote this and we are living through a ‘shock’ at the moment. Much more wary now of the vultures circling in the wake of covid. 

The Mountain Shadow

This is a hefty book that is the followup to Shantaram which I enjoyed. I think on the whole, I liked this better. It’s a long book but at no point did I get bored. It is heavily philosophical to the point where some people I think might find it a bit pretentious but I am not one of those people. The characters are well rounded and believable, if not a bit exaggerated. It’s a bit of a fantasy world in a way but gives a feel of such a different way of life to my own that it peaks the imagination. 

Some lovely writing…”Moonlight wrote tree poems on the road”. 

This is recommended. 

The Map that Changed the World

This is a book about rocks. There’s no two ways about it. As such, it can be a bit dull in places. The author, well-renowned as he is, does get a bit carried away with the rocks every now and again which if I’m honest was a slight struggle. However, I realise that without the rocks, there isn’t a book here. Surrounding these passages is an interesting biographical journey set in the early 1800s which I always find interesting. I would say there is a slow patch in the middle of the book but it finishes strongly. Not for everyone, but not the worst book in the world.