Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas chocolate jelly fungus

We found this while walking yesterday (on Christmas day). The kids decided it should be called chocolate jelly fungus. After a quick look through my Mushrooom and toadstools of Britain and Europe book, I think it might be Exidia Recisa.

A quick search of tinterweb tells me it's already got a name - amber jelly roll. I think ours might have been a little overdone, hence "chocolate" and not "amber".

Sunday, 23 December 2012

My guide to predicting the end of the world

Recently, the proportion of people who were prepared to believe in Mayan predictions decreased. Previously, it was 14.7%, with people citing reasons such as "they know an awful lot about astronomy". After Friday, it plummeted to 4.3%, with most people attributing their change of opinion to "well, they made up the bit about the end of the world, so they probably made the rest up too."

I can see many good reasons for predicting the end of the world. If you don't, people ask about events further and further into the future, to the point where you get confused with what you've already predicted. At this point, people will start finding inconsistencies, like "but I though his line had already died during the peanut butter wars" and "that means the high priestess was younger than her grandson when they first reunite the trigrinion."

Also, it's great PR. We've become a lot more aware of the predictions of the Mayans in the last few weeks.

So for all you yet-to-be-famous soothsayers, here are the options:

1. Be vague. "The world will end at some point in the next 284,000 years and will take quite a long time". This might work on one level, but is unlikely to have the PR effect of absolute predictions.

2. Make it really far in the future. "The world will end in the year 2,453,741". This leads to the problem of needing to predict over 2 million years of events, and you'll probably get confused.

3. Get it right. "The world will end in 2356 on September the 11th at 4:53pm Eastern Standard Time." The problem with this is, even if you get it right, there's no advantage. The number of people who believe in your predictions will be zero once the human race has been wiped out. So your in a lose-lose situation.

So here's my favourite option.

4. Incorporate periodicity. "Every 723 years, starting from a week next Tuesday, the great destroyer will visit our world to decide whether all human life should be destroyed."

Any cults that get super rich from this approach might like to send me the odd tenner. Thanks in advance, and apologies for making up the statistics at the top of the page.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Pretty tree

I used to drive past this tree twice a day and admire its shapeliness.

On some days it's brilliantly photogenic. On some days, it looks quite ordinary.

Today was one of its better days, and I had my camera.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Giant's Hole

Our good friend Neil offered to take us and the kids caving. We went to do the first bit of Giant's Hole, which is normally a relatively easy stroll.

It looks like this: least it does when it's dry. When we went down today that pebbly bit at the bottom of the photo was a river. This then ran down the passageway that we walked down and was very noisy and cold and wet.

We managed to get two children crying with cold and/or fear, so it wasn't the best introduction to caving for them. We've vowed to try again when it's warmer and less rainy.

Also... breaking news... we have some more ants. If you remember from one of my previous posts, we have an ant kit where you watch their tunnels through the glass. But after we bought a batch of ants and put them in, we ended up with only about 3 live ones that were very good at hiding. Well, we have some more and are looking forward to complicated underground tunnels.

Here's a pici. It's probably hard to make them out very well, but - take my word for it - the brown bits are ants. I think there are about 5 of them in this shot alone.
Subterranean metropolis - here we come.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Marmalade and chutney

Normally we make lots of jam through the summer months, and have an excess for the winter. This allows us to sell off a good selection at the kids' school Christmas fair.

This year, we've been quite busy with having moved house. It's also been a bad year for fruit, largely due to the lack of sunshine, I think.

But we were keen to have our conserve stall again, so we bought in some fruit and had a big jamming week. We made three types: clementine and cranberry marmalade, apple chutney, and mixed fruit chutney.

We had lots of interest in the stall, including some people who came back after liking the marmalade the previous year. Thankfully, despite my best sales techniques - "it matches your eyes madam", "they're all the rage with the kids" and "two for the price of three" - we still have enough to give some away. Our postman, Ray (who delivers to the new house as well) is a particular fan of the marmalade.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Movember Moel

I have been growing a moustache for almost a month now as part of "Movember". This is to raise awareness of men's health. If you want to learn more, visit my Mo page:

It's been quite fun despite people's comments that I look like a:
  • Gay biker
  • Member of The Village People
  • Sex offender
  • Porn star
I think this highlights a very stereotyped view of moustaches (especially ones like mine).

I'm intrigued as to the effect of Movember on mainstream society. I think it could go one of two ways.

It could make moustaches associated only with yearly charity activities and hence discourage men from keeping them all year. Indeed year-round moustachioed gents must get annoyed with strangers saying "nice mo", or perhaps less flattering comments similar to the ribbing I've received.

Alternatively, it could make moustaches more socially acceptable and create a new fashion of moustaches like the hirsute heydays of the 70s and the late 1800s. I'm quite looking forward to trying a different style next year.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

9 out of 10 kittens prefer...

Here's Cleo showing us what she likes to eat. There were uneaten kitten biscuits in her food dish at the time. Maybe she was just being sociable.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The joy of ants

The kids have got a glass-walled enclosure for keeping and observing ants. We were very excited a few weeks ago to receive our test tube of ants in the post. We released them into the enclosure and expected great things.

Here's a picture of the enclosure now.

Can't see any ants? Take a closer look at the bit of soil we were sent in the post.

You're right, there doesn't appear to be any ants at all.

To be honest the most we've ever seen is two at a time. On reading through the blurb, it confirms that the ants you get sent in the post are not the type that have a queen, so we'll never get any more ants than we have now.

I think we'll need to get another batch of ants.When we do, I'll put a picture on here.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Growing butterflies

We found some catterpillars at the end of the summer and put them in a jar with fresh nettles each few days. We enjoyed watching them grow and build cocoons. Then we kept checking them to see when they would emerge.

A few weeks ago, all three emerged as small tortoiseshell butterflies. This should be a time of joy as we watch them fly across the flower-filled meadows to take part in the great circle of life. However, ours emerged to a distinctly cold spell at the end of October.

I think they are now hibernating in the shed. At least I hope they are.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Moles - love or war?

We saw this line of molehills in a field. I'm not sure of the size of moles' territories, but it looks like two coming together. So were we witnessing a beautiful moment in these two moles' lives, or were they fighting over the best bit of the field?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

More kitten action

Here's Cleo showing her killer instinct. We hope she'll be this good with mice once she grows up a bit.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Fungus season

We went for a walk the other day and found lots of fungi in the fields. Here are a few of the better looking ones. I think we've got ink cap and puffball. We also had a look in a wildlife book and we think the one bottom-right might the nasty-sounding "sickener". I thought the little purple one was quite interesting. Feel free to add any names, or correct mine.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


My sister has been mithering me to update my blog. And she's absolutely right. It's been about a month. So here's a pici of our new cat, Cleo. Enjoy, big sis!

Our existing big bruiser cat, Casper is currently showing how unbothered he is by sitting on the table above Cleo and cleaning himself.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Longshaw Fell Race

The race was delayed by 45 minutes due to fog! I know that sounds pretty weird, but the sheepdog trials competitors couldn't see the dogs or the sheep. So the whole programme (including the fell race) was moved back to wait until the fog cleared.

It turned into a lovely sunny day. Here's the video (I'll add the actual video instead of a link once youtube and my blog will talk to each other!):

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Grasmere Senior Guides Race

For those who do not know the history of this race, let me enlighten you. It was the first girl guide-only race and was run solely by girl guides from 1903 until 1971, when cub scouts were also permitted. However, it reverted to its original format 3 years later after some nasty name calling near the summit.

In the late nineties, it became very popular as a fell race, and many grown men would enter it in disguise. Although it cannot be verified, several eye witnesses believe "Isobella Smith" was actually Ian Holmes in a brown skirt, when "she" won by over 8 minutes from "her" nearest competitor (13-year-old Georgina Phillips) in 1997.

By 2001, the guide-only format was abandoned and both adults and non-guides were allowed to enter the race. This was met with by fierce opposition both from traditionalist corners of the guiding community, who saw it as political correctness gone mad; and by several notable fell runners, who said they would miss the opportunity of cross-dressing. Since then, however it has established itself as one of the best fell races in the calendar.*

The 1958 winners

Mrs Noel has done this twice before and had come second both times. Luckily, Pippa Maddams wasn't there this year, but Sharron Taylor was, to take first place. Mrs Noel was second yet again, and was first lady vet 40.

It was my first time to run this race. Although I had my sights set on outright victory, several notable fell runners turned up, as did several reasonable club fell runners, and probably a few fit locals. These combined to narrowly edge me into 26th place, a mere 3 minutes behind the winner. But I was very pleased and have my sights set on top-20 glory next time.

*Some of the above might not be completely true

Monday, 23 July 2012

Great Hucklow - sports photography

 Photographing fell running is great for capturing the free-flowing dynamism of the sport. The trick is to get runners as they are turning on steep ground or leaping over obstacles. I've now learnt that it's not such a good idea to take pictures of fell runners as they are going across narrow bridges, as it make them look like they're going slowly. So, from Great Hucklow fell race on Sunday, here's:

Strolling John Heneghan

Meandering Jack Ross

Idling Olivia Walwyn-Bush
Dawdling Helen Elmore

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


I've been very lazy with updating my blog for the last month or so. And finally, my sister told me to update it.

The problem is, I've not done much recently that's blog-worthy. I've largely had a succession of bugs and colds. So I'll share a few photos instead.

Here's a nice picture of our dog Max, swimming in the river at Lathkill Dale. This is his "are you going to throw a stick?" face.

Also, we're very pleased to get the first courgettes from our plants in the garden. They're the yellow variety, and as you can see, are a good size.
Here's a close-up of my hands after cleaning out the range-style oil-burning cooker in our kitchen. It's like having old men's hands for about 3 days afterwards. Click on the picture to get the full effect - it looks best close up.
Here's a nice shot of a rock face at Ramshaw rocks.

And finally, here's the actual size of the first courgettes. They're meant to be small, but that's just silly.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The importance of stretching

We all need a good stretch from time to time. I have a series of fairly strange ones which seem to help me when I've been out for a run. We were amused to see a pelican at Blackbrook Zoological Gardens teaching us a few more.

Right arm and leg together

Turn your lower jaw inside-out
It was one of those moments where we had to set aside our adultness and point and laugh with the kids.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Cheshire Triathlon

Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me and my colleagues to do this triathlon. Cardiac Risk in the Young ( will be about £1500 better off thanks to all our efforts today. This will probably save lives, which is great.

The race went pretty much as could be expected. I haven't done any swim training for about 3 years. This became apparent when I had to resort to breast stroke after 4 lengths of ropey front crawl. This didn't seem to slow me down much, and after another 12 lengths I got out of the pool feeling OK.
"No copying my technique now chaps!"

My swim-bike transition was alright as well. I had planned not to have a towel and to take my goggles with me on the bike as I was too lazy to need to walk back to the pool after the event.

My bike ride went well. I passed about 10 people in the 20k and was able to push myself most of the way round. It was gently undulating, so I could keep a decent pace up most of the way. I remembered the advice of changing down gears and pedalling more quickly when I was approaching the bike-run transition. This stops your legs feeling too much like jelly when you try to run straight away.

Sitting down - the fourth discipline
I managed to find my shoes at the transition, and slipped them and my socks on pretty quickly, having talced them well beforehand. I had been considering not wearing socks in order to gain that extra 10 seconds. But then I remembered blistering a few years ago when I'd tried that at a swim-run event.

Once I was out of the transition, I was passing runners for most of the 5k course. In triathlons, most of the good runners can also swim a bit. And because people are set off at times based on their predicted swim time, most of the top runners had already finished by the time I got on to the run course.
The final few paces

Overall I was very happy with my time of 1 hr 11 minutes and 2 seconds. One of the good things about triathlons is that you can spend as much time as you did in the event, working out what the results mean and where you need to improve. It seems pretty clear for me.

My time: 10:25
Fastest time: 06:31
Percentage of fastest time: 160%

My time: 40:01
Fastest time: 32:46
Percentage of fastest time: 122%

My time: 20:36
Fastest time: 17:57
Percentage of fastest time: 115%

I clearly need to save more energy from the swim and bike, so I can shave some seconds off my run time :)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Whitebrook Wind-Up

We were visiting friends last weekend in Abergavenny. My mate does a bit of running and is very good, although not as driven to do races as I am. He had planned that we could coincide our visit with a local race, and suggested the Whitebrook Wind-Up. This is a trail half-marathon with a reasonable amount of hills in it, so sounded like something I'd really enjoy.

In the weeks running up to our visit, my friend picked up an achilles injury and Mrs Noel decided she is nursing her ankle, so it was only me who entered.

The race went pretty well. There was one guy there who was clearly in a class of his own and set off pretty quickly. I quickly clocked that I wasn't in the same league, so let him go. However, there were about 5 others who I think got dragged along with him for the first 2 or 3 miles. These lads didn't look great, but were clearly running more quickly than I was so I let them go too.

When that happens, half of you says "they're just better than you - get used to it" and half of you says "they've paced it wrong - you'll get them later". Luckily, I think some of them had set off too quickly. Over the next 8 miles, I passed all but the very good bloke and was cruising in second.

"Pride before a fall" and all that. Just when I was thinking I'd done all the hard work, someone shot past me with about a mile to go. Luckily I had the leg speed on the flat and won by a few seconds. I'm a bit sore today. Perhaps I should have built in a cycle warm-down after the race. That's what the winner did, after packing up his stuff into his Iron Man rucksack - he'd clearly cycled to the race too. I have a lot of respect for good triathletes.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Ideal race preparation

I was planning to do a fell race in Lancashire called Pendle Cloughs on Saturday. I got to the point of saying "bye" to the kids and walking to the door. At this point, it hit me how much of my day I would be dedicating to one race. Including driving there and back, it would be about 7 hours. So I decided to go for a long run near my house instead.

After last weekend's four trigs, I went the whole hog this weekend. This involves running from my house to the trig points of Shutlingsloe, Shining Tor, Burbage Edge, Axe Edge then Roaches. This is about 20 miles, with 3500 feet of ascent. I was pleased to do it without running out of steam, and finished in 4 hours 9 minutes.

Then on Sunday I had a day off, before racing today (Monday) at James' Thorn fell race in Glossop. This is a great short and steep race at 5 miles and 1600 feet. I was pretty surprised to feel good on the long ascent up to James' Thorn on the Kinder plateau. I had assumed that the mileage from Saturday would still be in my legs. Normally I would do a recovery run after a long day like this, but it seems a rest day was the ideal thing for me.

I was third at the summit and was praying that the guy who was in second wasn't a super fast descender. Luckily, he wasn't. So I could (very slowly) reel him in, and I managed to sneak past a few hundred yards before the end. I don't finish many races in the top three, so I'm definitely savouring this one.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

17 miles, jackdaw kindling and French macarons

On Saturday, I decided I needed to work on my stamina. So I set off to do the famous 4 trigs gritstone challenge. "4 trigs?" I hear you say, "don't you mean 5 trigs?" Well, actually it is supposed to be the 5 trigs - running to the trig point on 5 hills that are local to my house. The challenge traditionally starts from the Cat and Fiddle pub and takes in the peaks of Shining Tor, Burgage Edge, Axe Edge, The Roaches and Shutlingsloe.

I knew my legs wouldn't be up for 20 miles, so I had to shorten it a bit, and miss out Roaches. This still meant it was about 17 miles, which is a long way for me. I was very pleased to finish it in a reasonable state. Not like a stumbling fool, which is how I normally look after long fell races.

Then we were amused to find the jackdaws had built a 5-foot high pile of kindling in the barn. Normally you can see that it resembles a nest, but this didn't at all. This is probably for the best, as it's level with a raise floor that the cat can get to.

Today, because it was quite windy and rainy, we took the opportunity to stay in and make some French biscuits from a packet recipe. We brought this back from France thinking they were biscuits, but it turned out we had to make them ourselves first. I think you'll agree, they are completely indistinguishable from how they should look. Thankfully, they taste nice.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Weather-adjusted improvement: Kinder Downfall

In most of the races I do, one of my main objectives is to perform better than I have previously at the same race. I knew this would be a tricky at Kinder Downfall as I've done it about 5 times already and was pretty happy with my time from the last time I ran it, in 2010.

As usual, everyone set off pretty fast - all trying to keep up with the person in front. This works fine unless you've got someone much faster than you at the front of the line. Evenually the line breaks and people find their own speed. By this time I could start to work my way up through the field of runners and was feeling strong by the top.

After slowing up on the start of the descent, I eventually found my rhythm and fell strong to the end. I'd finished in a time of 1:17:39. This is 39 seconds slower than 2010.

At this point, a focused and driven athlete would increase the intensity and specificity of their training. I prefer to bend the rules in these situations. It was very muddy today, which always makes for a slower time. This can affect times by a couple of minutes. Luckily, someone reminded me it had been quite dry for the previous few years' races.

So I'm claiming a weather-adjusted victory. Hurray for me.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Jura training camp

I had a few days working in Geneva and my hotel was just to the north, in France. So I took the opportunity to run up a very small bit of the Jura range one evening.
Here's my start point

Here are the hills I am aiming for. The town in the foreground is Thoiry. It's hard for me to judge how big these hills are.

The answer is "pretty big". I was running/walking uphill for about an hour before I got worried about the time and turned round. I think there was still a lot of uphill to go. Here's my high-point with some snow on the ground to make it feel even higher.

It had been quite a claggy day, but it cleared to give me a nice view. My hotel is down there somewhere.

For those of you who know the Jura, apparently I was part way up towards the summit of Le Reculet. I think it would have been too snowy to get there, as well as too dark by the time I reached it.

I've not explored around Geneva before. I was surprised by how accessible the Jura is from Geneva.

I'm hoping my small foray will prove to be the ideal training for Kinder Downfall race, this Sunday. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

French cartoons and castles

We've just spent a week's holiday in the North Loire Valley, and here are the things we will now add to the list of "things that France is great for".

We were already aware of: nicer weather, more rock to climb on (see photo below from our day bouldering at Franchard), lovely pastries.

However, we are now also aware of:

1. The kids' cartoon "Linus and Boom". Sadly this is a French phenomenon and is yet to appear in the UK. Even the wikipedia page is in French.

2. The castle Gu├ędelon. This is a castle that is being built using techniques from the middle ages. It's situated on a site of an abandoned quarry, in a forest, near some clay deposits, so they use all local materials, and process it on-site. This includes a blacksmith, stone masons, rope maker, tile makers, carpenters, etc. It's been going about 15 years and it be be fully built in about another ten years. There were loads of school kids there, learning about how things were done in the 13th century.
Note the two wheels that are part of the crane in the picture above. This is for people to get inside and use like hamster wheels to lift stuff up to the castle. Here's a shot of two blokes in it, providing the manpower. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Lad's Leap fell race

Here's another video for you. I couldn't get to the same place to film the men's field, so it's mainly the ladies.
Mrs Noel was very pleased to finish fifth in her age category.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Starting again - Wolf's Pit Fell Race

Not training through the winter means I have to put up with the first few races of the year being a bit disappointing. I try to temper this disappointment and ready myself to be slower than the people I normally compete against. But it's hard.

In the future, I can see myself coming back from a winter off training and saying "I'm so far behind, I can't see how I can get back to where I was".

At Wolf's Pit fell race today. I went off a bit fast, so lost a few places in the second half of the race. However, I now see where I need to be, and I have the experience of past years to help me get there. The main question is "do I have the desire to put the training in?" The answer is a definite "Yes".

Mrs Noel continued where she left off last year, taking over three minutes of her previous time at this race.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Can you tell what is it yet?

A good snow covering meant more chance to build snow sculptures with the kids. This was meant to be various things throughout its creative development. These include: A playground, a seat, a dragon, a dog, an arch and an elephant.

They say a camel is a horse designed by committee*. I think this is the equivalent in snow animals.

*I always feel this maxim is very unfair to the brilliantly evolved camel.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Pooh hats

I've invented a new game that is ideal for children who live in windy places, or who are unable to play pooh sticks from bridges over rivers.
Step 1: Wait until it's very windy
Step 2: Go to a local monument (eg, Solomon's Temple near Buxton)
Step 3: Climb to the top and throw your hats into the wind
Step 4: Get Mrs Noel to chase them across a field, all the while cursing you for doing something so stupid with the children's hats.

In hindsight, I think it was a bit too windy. It very quickly turned from something a bit funny to amuse the kids into something a bit worrying with that feeling in the back of my mind that I would probably get shouted at. Luckily Mrs Noel did very well pursuing the hats, and we didn't lose any.

Oh, and... my hat won. In your face, kids :)

P.S. Having added the link to the Wikipedia entry for Pooh sticks, I am now aware that there is an annual world championships. When Pooh hats becomes as popular, I would like to propose Solomon's Temple, Buxton as one of the venues.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Date and cardamom chutney

We had a few apples left over from autumn, so I decided to make a chutney. I've been toying with the idea of using cardamoms for a while and I think it worked well. The apples were a mixture of cookers and eaters, so I guess you could use either. Here's the recipe:

1.7kg apples (cored and peeled weight)
0.5kg onions - chopped
600g sultanas
850ml malt vinegar
2 tsp salt
800g granulated sugar
500g dates (stoned and chopped)
2tbsp garam masala
20 green cardamoms (finely ground and the pods removed)
4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 tsp hot pepper sauce (tabasco sauce would do)
  • Chop and cook the apples in a little water until they're pulpy, then add the other ingredients.
  • Cook for about 5 hours on a low heat stirring every once in a while to stop it burning to the bottom of pan.
  • Once it looks like chutney, jar it. If it's taking too long, turn it off, and leave it overnight, then you can finish it off the following day - I often make chutneys over a few days as they need cooking for a long time. I managed to fill about 12 medium jam jars with this recipe.
Chutneys normally get better after about 4-6 weeks, as the vinegary taste subsides a bit.

On first tasting, I'm quite pleased by the results. The taste of cardamom is present but not overpowering. I could have ground the cardamom seeds finer, as the taste gets stronger in some mouthfuls - presumable as I chew on the larger lumps of cardamom seed. Personally, I quite like this, but it might not be to everyone's taste.