My annual city break with my Mum was in Amsterdam this year. The challenge when arranging these breaks is getting separate flights from Stansted and Liverpool airports that arrive at and depart from the same destination within a short space of time (normally within an hour of each other). The list of possible destinations that fit this criteria is quite small and getting smaller as we cross off another destination each year.

This year the trip was made using Easy Jet. I dread having to go through the misery of flying Ryanair (and indeed paying them to make me so miserable), so it was good that I was flying Easy Jet.

I met my Mum as Schipol airport and we made our way into Amsterdam. I had booked the Wyndham Apollo, a Top Secret hotel which sounded very nice but in hindsight was probably just a bit far from the centre.

We took the train from the airport into Central station and then got the tram out to our hotel. The tram took about 15-20 mins so we did not imagine that we would be walking the journey very frequently.

Over the three nights we ate in various places – in a bar, in a cheapish restaurant with insincere waiters, and in a cheap and touristy Argentinian restaurant next to the Red Light district.

We occupied ourself during the day with various tourist attractions:

We purchased a 48 hour ticket on the Canal Bus which encouraged us to use the waterways as much as possible as a way of getting around the city. This worked fine, but the first boat stop was a good 20 mins or more from the hotel so it always involved a good bit of walking.

The weather was pretty good on the whole – the first day gloriously hot and sunny, the second overcast, and the last mostly sunny.

We had a really nice time in the city – there is a lot to do. As usual I would have been much more content spending longer in the cafes and bars taking life easy. However I am prepared on these mother and son trips to spend the days on my feet and in as many queues for tourist attractions that we can manage.

Canals and churches:

A well deserved drink:

Red light district at sunset:

Town Bumps 2010

Another year, another week of fun, misery, frustration, elation and ultimately relief in the Cambridge Town Bumps.

This year was my 6th consecutive year’s row in the Bumps competition, and for a bit of a novelty I went back to my roots. My first year’s entry was as a novice in the St Radegund bottom men’s boat (M3) in the lowest division in 2005. Since that time I have had the pleasure of rowing with all the St Radegund men’s crews (3 times with M1 and once with M2).

Last summer I had had enough of rowing on Sat mornings at silly o’clock with M1 and decided to take the winter 6 months off the sport. The 6 months turned into a year and it was only 3 weeks before Bumps this year that I volunteered to row, ideally with M3. And my wish was kindly granted as there was a vacancy.

My choice to row in M3 was for the fun factor. I know (roughly) how to row so the idea was to have a stress-free 4 nights of rowing and enjoy the Beer Tree at the end of the course. What I had forgotten was what it was like rowing with a novice boat that included only 1 other person that had done Bumps before.

Here’s a photo of our M3 boat waiting for the start – perhaps with 10 mins to go.

Our crew was:

Cox: Liz
Stroke: Rob
7: Nate
6: Ben
5: George
4: James
3: Colin
2: Kelly
Bow: Clare

It is important when summarising the 4 nights rowing achievements that one particular rowing term is understood. From Wikipedia:

A rowing error where the rower is unable to timely remove or release the oar blade from the water and the oar blade acts as a brake on the boat until it is removed from the water. This results in slowing the boat down. A severe crab can even eject a rower out of the shell or make the boat capsize (unlikely except in small boats). Occasionally, in a severe crab, the oar handle will knock the rower flat and end up behind him/her, in which case it is referred to as an ‘over-the-head crab.

Day 1

Our boat started 5th from bottom of the bottom division (3rd division).

About 15 strokes after the start we “caught a severe crab”, the boat crashed down to one side and came to a near stop. The crew in the boat chasing us were immediately on top of us after having a better start and we were quickly bumped out of the race.

As stroke, I was shouted at for not letting the cox know how quickly we were being caught. I don’t think I’ve ever been caught this quickly in a Bumps race.

Day 2

Our boat was now starting 4th from bottom of the division 3.

About 15 strokes after the start we “caught a severe crab”, the boat crashed down to one side and came to a near stop. The crew in the boat chasing us were immediately on top of us after having a better start and we were quickly bumped out of the race.


I warned our cox this time of our impending doom before it happened.

Day 3

Our boat was now starting 3rd from bottom of the division 3.

About 15 strokes after the start we “caught a severe crab”, the boat crashed down to one side and came to a near stop. The crew in the boat chasing us were a bit slower and were not immediately on top of us. So we had a chance to recover.

We didn’t recover. After the first crab, we then proceeded to catch another 3 over the next 3 strokes. If the crew chasing us needed help to catch us, then it appeared it was Christmas. We were caught within a distance of a few metres.

Day 4 (last night)

Our boat was now starting 2nd from bottom of the division 3. If we got bumped tonight, we would finish bottom of the bottom division.

We needed a plan. In every training outing we had caught perhaps one or two crabs over a 3 week period. Why were we doing this in the first 15 strokes of a race? It had to be novice nerves and over enthusiastic rowing. To try and fix this we decided as a group that we would start off slowly and build up our race pace gradually. This should keep the crew and its rowing calm and controlled and give us a chance of rowing more than 15 strokes. The plan had the downside of allowing the boat chasing us to get extremely close before we would be at our controlled race pace.

Our start was indeed slow. We went off with a slow rating and at half pressure (effort). We built this up over the next 30 strokes to our comfortable race pace. The slow start was perfect and with only a single minor crab we managed to keep control of the boat. The boat chasing us did manage to get close, within a couple of metres, but by this time we were getting into our stride and we gradually pulled away from this crew.

There were a couple more crabs over the length of the course, but the gap was sufficient that we were unlikely to get caught. In fact at the finishing line, after the 1.5km race it was clear that we had gained ground on the boat ahead of us and in other circumstances should not have let them bump us the night before.

The relief was immense. It felt like a victory. For the first time this week we had rowed a full race and showed that we were capable of rowing the course and not being the slowest boat in the competition.

Waiting for the start on the final night, it is quite clear how near the boat behind is:

Here we are about 10 strokes in -still going and no crabs:

The last night was the only night that we managed to get to a bend in the river. Here’s a photo showing how close all the boats were going into “first post corner”. Ours is the crew second to last on the right of the photo. My blue Everton shirt makes it fairly easy to spot me. The marquees on the left are rented out to different companies each night and add to the Bumps spectacle:

Each night we spent a couple of hours at the Beer Tree, on the tow path near the closed Pike and Eel pub (aka The Penny Ferry). I was getting concerned that the lack of strenuous rowing on the first 3 nights followed by 4 or 5 pints was getting bad for my figure! However, after the last night’s long row-over I felt thoroughly deserving of the drinks.

Emlyn and Richard came to watch on the Fri night and their support was much appreciated. If my crew had crabbed again on the last night I would have been in a stinking mood for the rest of the evening, so it was good that we did not have to hang our heads in rowing shame.

Here’s a photo at the Beer Tree (a big Beer Tree sign hanging up behind us):

As is usual, the last night of the Bumps is followed by a long party and it wasn’t until 3:30am that we all left the St Radegund pub for home.

The official bumps results are here.

Latitude 2010

Carmel and I have been looking forward to this year’s Latitude for most of the last 12 months.

This year I spent a fortune on albums from the artists playing. I must have bought over 20 albums. Perhaps a sign of modern times – most of these albums were bought as mp3s from Amazon rather than as physical CDs.

The festival was great fun and lived up to our high expectations. The weather was perfect – plenty of sun.

One of the highlights for me was getting an autograph from the band members of James. That band have almost certainly been the most listened to in my music collection over the many years and it was great to meet them all for 2 seconds. Carmel made me do it of course. I was too sensible and grown up to want to queue for autographs, but Carmel insisted and even got a separate set of autographs for Lauren.

I think in particular I liked Hockey, James, Crystal Castles, Sweet Billy Pilgrim and Vampire Weekend. This last band finished off the weekend on the main stage and provided a great performance in the dark.

These are the bands we saw:

  • Holly Miranda (dull as her album)
  • Arno Carstens (accidentally, not my music choice)
  • Lissie (annoyingly boring – I like her current album)
  • Hockey (very good fun)
  • Spoon
  • Laura Marling (a bit dull)
  • The Feeling (Carmel loved them)
  • Richard Hawley (bronchitis but actually very good)
  • Florence + The Machine (could only listen to 4 songs of screeching)
  • The Hundred in the Hands
  • White Belt Yellow Tag
  • Paul Heaton
  • James (lots of fun – massive crowd and support)
  • Crystal Castles (very energetic and good)
  • Belle and Sebastian (good)
  • The XX (bit disappointing live)
  • Nadine Shah (did not like)
  • Sweet Billy Pilgrim (did like)
  • Mumford & Sons
  • The Temper Trap
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  • Rodrigo Y Gabriela (fascinating)
  • Vampire Weekend (nice surprise – did not expect their live set to be quite so good)

And the ones we didn’t get to see but would have liked to have seen:

  • Matthew P (too early in the day)
  • Delta Maid (still too early in the day)
  • Kassidy (stage and schedule clash – also applies to remainder of list)
  • The Unthanks
  • Black Mountain
  • Girls
  • School of Seven Bells
  • The Horrors
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg
  • The Coral
  • Grizzly Bear