Well this is embarrassing

So it seems I haven’t made a post since 2013. Oh dear. What have I been doing all this time? Well, I had kids for starters. They are wonderful, but man do they ever take the all the time out of the day and then ask for more. It’s not their fault of course, it’s mine. I’ve had to prioritize and the upkeep of a blog somehow just didn’t fit on the daily priority list. Well, hopefully that can change soon. Here I am making a post! But not for no good reason. I’m doing a little retraining and hope to be publishing a new website soon. The kids are a bit older now, and I find myself with — dare I say it — a bit of time on my hands. So if you’re reading this and you’re curious as to why my personal site has languished for 5 years, it’s not because I’m lazy or uninterested. It’s because I’ve been busy being a good husband and a good father to my two children.

Three Months Later

Wow. It’s been ages since we’ve done anything with the blog. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get much done other than the basics. Here it is, more than ten months since Russell was born and I’m only getting down to documenting his third to sixth months. It’s amazing really. Going back, looking through all of our photos and videos of him and seeing how much he’s changed, how far he’s come in such a short period of time. At the time, it seems like he’s not learning fast enough, but wow, the stuff that’s happened in ten months! Amazing! I don’t have a lot of time to write about it, so I’m just going to put up a bunch of photos that we took between November 2012 and February 2013.

The first three months with The Biscuit

Well. They say having a baby changes your priorities, and this is true. While he’s awake, it seems impossible to do anything but pay attention to him. And while he’s sleeping, you’re doing everything else – laundry, dishes, eating, sleeping, and any job-related stuff that absolutely can’t be put off another day. The blog falls by the wayside. I expect this trend will continue for some time.

So, he came. Contractions woke me up at around 6am on the morning of August 20th. Surprise! They were more than two weeks early, and first babies are usually late. I mistakenly thought, given that I felt strong and healthy at the end of my pregnancy, that the labor and birth would be relatively easy. Unfortunately not. After 27 hours of excruciating pain, but still not enough dilation, the midwife suggested an oxytocin drip. This meant a transfer to the labor ward, where I was also offered an epidural. I reluctantly accepted both, out of pure exhaustion. Four hours later, Russell was born. I can’t really describe the moment they put him on my chest – even though I had 9 months to get used to the idea, it was still an overwhelming surprise when suddenly there was a new person there, where there wasn’t one before. Out of the three of us, I think Russell cried the least.

The hospital stay was pretty wretched. They’d had to resort to a forceps delivery, so Russell had sad little bruises on his face, and his body temperature and blood sugar were low. I’d sustained a third-degree tear and a combination of bad drug reactions and just plain fatigue had me wrecked. But we had each other, and, during visiting hours, we had Brad, who brought him clothes and nappies, and me food and magazines, and spent every minute he could with us until the midwives would kick him out. After five long days in the ward, they released us into the wild. One positive thing about the long stay was that by the time we got out, Russell and I had more or less figured out breastfeeding*, and Brad and I had started to feel comfortable with holding, changing, cleaning, etc., after getting advice and help from the midwives. So we were nervous, but knew we had mastered the basics. He was already gaining weight when the midwives came by the day after we brought him home. All the clothes we had were still far too big for him though. Luckily our lovely neighbor had recently had a baby who was also on the small side, and she loaned us a bunch of “tiny baby” onesies. It wasn’t until he was over a month old that he fit in the “newborn” size.

I look at those tiny baby onesies now and marvel at how little and fragile he was. Back then, just leaving the house with him seemed like a scary and complicated endeavor, so I hardly left. I was slow to recover anyway, so it was actually not such a bad thing to be curled up on the couch with him most of the time. Brad was home too, and lots of people came by to visit, so I wasn’t lonely. At first he slept all the time. You might think that sounds good, but it was nerve-wracking. At night we’d set an alarm to go off every four hours to make sure he was getting enough to eat. By the time he was 4 weeks old, though, he was crying a lot, hungry all the time, and starting to spend more time awake and looking around.

They say this time is fleeting, but to me each month has felt like a year. His development is not the rapid cascade I expected — each tiny improvement in his motor control seems like a long-fought battle. He babbles and smiles now, and can hold his head up well. He seems to enjoy our funny sound effects and silly songs and cuddling. He focuses his eyes on objects. But he can’t reach for things — he doesn’t yet know his hands are his own. His digestive system is still his worst enemy, keeping him (and us) awake for long hours during the night. His eyes are bright and wise, but then his head lolls over and milk dribbles down his chin. Learning is slow and hard. I think half the time he’s crying it’s out of pure frustration.

And our lives proceed. We’ve gone on a few road-trips and walks, which we’ll try to post about someday soon — he’s quite happy in the car, and he quite likes being outside if the weather is good. But there is no question that our days are very different now than they were before, and will be for a while. I’ve been to the climbing wall four times in three months. I’ve started avoiding my email because of all the people waiting for help, answers, comments . . . I do what I can, and try not to feel guilty about the rest. Nappies and poo are dinner conversation. Being peed upon is no big deal. Burps and farts are events to be warmly applauded. Sleep is nice if you can get it, but there’s no point in getting upset when you can’t. I do laundry every single day. It all sounds a bit grim, but you know what? It’s awesome.

Below are some pictures of our first three months together, in chronological order.

*I’d been warned, repeatedly, that breastfeeding would take some time to master, and kept thinking, how hard can this be, really? Baby, breast, put them together. But it really was very hard to get the hang of it – the baby has a sucking reflex but doesn’t know what it’s for, and you have to trigger the reflex at just the right moment, and hold the baby in just the right position, for everything to line up. After a few weeks it’s easy, because you both know what to do, but until then it’s baffling, painful, and frustrating.

The Biscuit Cometh

Russell Jack Newman arrived at 12:59 on the 21st of August, 2012 about two and a half weeks early. He was born naturally and weighed in at 2930 grams (6lbs 8ounces). The moment of his birth was certainly the most emotional and memorable of my life so far. I was thankful to have been there when they pulled him screaming into this world. The last five days have been a wild ride. It’s been very hard at times but mostly its just amazing. Good times ahead.


On climbing pregnant

I didn’t climb much during the first trimester. I was tired a lot, and the few times I did get out I felt at risk of throwing up on my belayer, which wouldn’t have been a very nice experience for either of us. By week 14 I couldn’t even do a pull-up anymore – I don’t think it was the weight, because I hadn’t put on much by then – it just felt like my core muscles had shut down. So I thought my climbing days were over for a while. But when the nausea and sleepiness of the first trimester started to dissipate, I found I really wanted to get back to climbing.  Some inspiring articles and blogs from other women who climbed through their pregnancies prompted me to start looking at full-body harnesses on line (they fit around your legs and shoulders, and have a tie in point at chest level, above the bump). At first it seemed a bit frivolous to spend £80 on a harness when I wasn’t sure for how long and how much I’d be able to climb. And the harness, a Petzl 8003, is pretty much the only option, and it’s not designed with pregnant rock climbers in mind — no padding, the gear loops are tiny and in the way, and the smaller of the two sizes is still far too large for me, so there’s lots of extra webbing hanging off it. But I definitely don’t regret buying it. The only time it’s been really uncomfortable was on a longer mountain route with hanging belays and long abseils. With lots of gear to carry and no padding, it was pinchy and awkward — not on the bump, but pretty much everywhere else. For the indoor wall and single pitches outside it does the job well enough, though.

I was a bit nervous the first time I wore the full-body harness at the climbing wall. I’d never seen anyone climbing pregnant there before and I wasn’t sure how people would react. I knew that what I was doing felt perfectly safe and healthy, but being pregnant can make you self-conscious – perhaps justifiably so, since a lot of people who previously wouldn’t have given you a second glance, upon noticing your belly, suddenly have an opinion. It’s usually a positive one though, at least in my experience, and such was the case at the climbing wall — everyone was really encouraging and I felt comfortable right away, so I needn’t have worried. I still feel conspicuous though, especially when I’m lowering off an overhanging route, which is awkward with a big belly and the high tie-in point — you feel a bit like a carcass dangling on a meat hook. But the climbing itself, that feels great. Aside from yoga and swimming (neither of which I’m crazy about),  I can’t think of any activities that are as low-impact, safe, and good for your back and pelvis muscles as straightforward toproping at an indoor climbing wall.

Thanks to Brad, I have managed to get climbing outside at least a dozen times this season as well, despite it being, so far anyway, the rainiest summer on record here. I’ve been picky about locations and conditions – I’ve avoided loose rock, sketchy approaches, awkward rappels, and any risk of getting caught out by high tides. Moreover, as soon as I got the full-body harness I stopped leading — it was too awkward to carry much gear anyway, and while falling would probably be fine, I just wouldn’t know for sure until it happened, and I didn’t want to take the risk. Because I’m just out to have fun following other people up whatever they want to climb, I haven’t been as willing to put up with uncomfortable conditions, like cold/wind/wet. Despite having a lot of criteria, I’ve had some really nice days out, both on the sea cliffs and in the hills. We haven’t been in the hills as much as I’d like, or out to the west coast at all, but all in all, it’s been a far better summer of climbing than I expected. I’m not much of a boulderer anyway, but I also did some easy circuits in Font at around 18 weeks, staying well within my comfort zone and carefully checking the top-outs and descents off each boulder before I went up.

I keep waiting for climbing to start to feel awkward. Now that I’m at 8 months, I waddle to the crag or the wall, and I can barely breathe while I’m lacing up my shoes. My core muscles are gone and I weigh almost 16kg more than I did 8 months ago. So my attitude every time I tie in and start up a route has been to just focus purely on enjoying the exercise, and if it feels hard for the grade or I can’t do it, that’s perfectly fine — just climb something else. But, actually, the climbing really hasn’t reached the point where it feels difficult or awkward. My finger strength, balance, and flexibility are better than ever, and even though I’m not climbing at the same level as I was before, it’s usually because there is some particular thing, like an obstacle near my belly, or an unavoidable high step, that makes me decide to lower off without trying it. I do have to turn my body to one side or the other more, think through the moves before I start them, and be a little more clever with my feet, and some of these techniques probably help, but I think there is also some physiological compensation going on – for example, the body releases the hormone relaxin during pregnancy which makes the hips and pelvis way more flexible than normal. And there’s a huge increase in blood volume (30-50%) and circulating cortisol during pregnancy, which means more energy getting to the muscles. Whatever the reason, the extra weight and loss of core strength hasn’t had as devastating an impact as you’d think. In fact, it feels so natural and easy to be climbing that I almost forget about being huge – it’s only when I top out a route and I’m standing on horizontal ground that I’m back to feeling heavy and off-balance.

I’ve been lucky to feel fit and healthy through the pregnancy – I know better than to take this for granted, and I’m not going to presume it means everything is going to be easier than I thought it would be. We’re both excited about this new turn our lives are about to take, but it wasn’t a decision I took lightly at all — the knowledge of all the things I may have to sacrifice, both at work and in my personal life, weighed really heavily in my mind. Climbing was one of the things I thought I might have to give up, for a while anyway, and I thought that sacrifice would come sooner than the rest. So it’s been a lovely surprise to discover I didn’t have to give it up after all – and being pregnant has even added an interesting new dimension to the climbing experience.

On the sea cliffs near Newtonhill, about 34 weeks pregnant. (Thanks to Matthew for the photo!)

Weekend in Tuscany, May 25-29

We spent the long weekend in May in Siena. We flew out of Aberdeen at 6am friday morning and by late afternoon we were on a bus from Rome to Siena. Laurie met us at the bus stop and, after dropping our bags off at the hotel, we had a lovely dinner in the big Piazza, which has a tower and lots of sparrows and is lined with restaurants.  The menu had really bad english translations of their options – I don’t remember what I had for a main, but the starter was something like “black cabbage thrown on the furnace” (and it was delicious). Afterwards we got some gelato and walked by the Duomo. Magnifico!

On Saturday, we did Siena. In the morning we visited the home of St Catherine. Her home has been decorated in gorgeous Frescoes depicting scenes from her completely fascinating life story. We also went into St Catherine’s basilica, which has a couple of rather gruesome relics — her finger and her head — mounted in cases, and is otherwise quite a plain but airy space. The basilica was an interesting contrast to the Duomo, which we visited next. The outside is amazing enough, but the inside is just crazy. The most amazing thing is probably the floor, which is an enormous marble mosaic, sectioned off with different artists contributing different scenes and images from history and the bible.  But everything else was mindblowing as well, with amazing frescoed chapels, statues by Michelangelo and Bernini, paintings by Donatello, amazing guilded walls and dazzling ceilings, and on and on. We also went into the Duomo museum and up to the tower to take in the view. In the evening we went to a piano concert (Mozart and Schubert – not very Italian, but nice anyway!) and then had dinner (again, I can’t remember what exactly, but pasta and/or pizza is a safe bet).

Sunday was an epic day. We walked a long way out of the center of Siena to get to the train station, where we caught a train to Asciano, a tiny village of which we walked from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. The plan was to visit a monastery which was about 11km away. Being Sunday, there were no buses running and no taxis in the village, and the bike shop was closed for the day. So we walked there. My 6-months-pregnant feet are about a full size bigger than they should be, so my shoes felt too small, and it was about 28C, which is about 10 degrees hotter than it ever gets in Scotland, so I had a few cranky moments, but we made it, and had a picnic lunch outside under the umbrella trees. The monastery was gorgeous – more lovely frescoes and lovely rooms, a big library and stunning chapel, and actual monks roaming around in white robes. Then we got back on the road and walked another 10.5 km to the next village, Buonconvento. Given that was a little sore and a bit whiny after the first 11km, you can imagine what pleasant company I was after the next 10km – sorry Laurie and Brad!! But they took good care of me. We caught a bus back from Buonconvento back to Siena, where I went straight to bed.

On monday we spent a bit more time in Siena, visiting a few more churches and neighborhoods, and then caught a bus to Montipulciano, a lovely hilltop town in a famous wine-producing region. The town is stunning, with amazing steep and narrow streets ending with views over the tuscan countryside. Brad tried some of the famous Montipulciano wine and declared it delicious, while I tried not to be a little jealous (it wasn’t that hard, because I was eating amazing spinach flan and other yummy things). Then we had to run to catch our respective buses – Laurie back to Siena, and us to another small town with a train station, and then a train to Rome.

We arrived in Rome and checked into our hotel, which was a few blocks from the main station, and found some dinner – I had some awesome eggplant parmesan followed by the best tiramisu ever. In the morning we did a major blitz of roman sites – we walked through the colosseum, the roman forum, and the pantheon, and we walked by the monument to Victor Emmanuel II and the Trevi fountain. Then we caught a train to the airport, and the flight home again; Sore feet, some minor sunburns, and a lot of gelato later!


Back in April… we took a week-long climbing trip to Fontainebleau, France. For those that don’t know, Fontainebleau is a small city south of Paris, popular as a weekend getaway and known for the large forest and the historical château de Fontainebleau. For climbers, Fontainebleau or “Font” is a world-class destination for bouldering. There are dozens of areas scattered throughout the forest, each with a high concentration of hard sandstone boulders of all sizes. The whole area was once at the bottom of a lake, and the resulting rocks left behind are smooth and rippled, and often surrounded by flat sandy ground. The exceptional quality of climbing for all abilities combined with the beauty of the forest and easy access makes Font a world-class destination. A week was nowhere near enough.

We met up with our friends Dan and Linda and their little girl Viva and we all stayed in a lovely little gite just outside the picturesque town of Barbizon. Traveling there was easy and the weather there was pretty much perfect the whole trip with sunny days and slightly cool temps — it even rained on our rest day so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on a great day of climbing.

We arrived in Paris on Saturday afternoon and were kindly picked up by Dan in a rental. Forty minutes later we were pulling into the drive of our “gite rural” just north west of the forest town of Fontainebleau and only five minutes away from one of the most popular bouldering areas on the planet. We were greeted by Linda and Viva who was just a sleepy baby when we saw her last and who is now a happy little two-year-old. The gite was a cozy two bedroom cottage located on the grounds of a very large chateau surrounded by forest. The area around Font is all forest and it is immense. There were two other gites on the grounds as well. At some point they were outbuildings of some kind for the chateau, one a barn, another a guest house…. hard to say really. I wish I took pictures. For some reason I took no pictures on this trip, and I’m fairly annoyed by that.

We took care of the grocery shopping right away so we could devote the rest of the week to climbing, and we had a nice evening meal while catching up. Dan and Linda’s friend Magnus stayed with us for the first two days as well. His family had just gone home after being in Font for a month and somehow Magnus had managed to squeeze out just a couple more days. Sunday and Monday we climbed all day, each day at different areas.

Here’s the breakdown:

Sunday: Franchard Cuisiniere
Monday: Bas Cuvier
Tuesday: Rest day – Paris
Wednesday: 95.2
Thursday: Rest day – Font
Friday: La Roche aux Sabots
Saturday: travel home

Days would start with breakfast and cleanup. We’d hit the crags usually by 10:30 and climb until 6:30 ish. Packed lunches would be consumed in some sunny spot next to the climbing. Evenings were spent cooking, eating and playing with Viva.

On the Tuesday sore muscles and thin skin demanded a rest day, so we all piled in the van and went to Paris. Our aim was to visit the Science Museum which looked pretty cool. The weather was cold and rainy, and the traffic going into Paris was very congested. The lines inside the museum were epic and we all decided it wasn’t going to be a pleasant day fighting the crowds so we went for a walk outside up and down the canal instead. After our walk we just got back in our car and headed back to the tranquility of the forest.

I managed to hurt my knee pretty badly on Wednesday which forced another rest day on Thursday. We spent the day in Fontainbleau city. Meme and I visited the palace there while Dan, Linda and Viva went to find an internet cafe and run some virtual errands.

Friday we hooked up with some of Dan and Linda’s friends and we all spent the day climbing, some of us more than others. I was still a bit sore so wasn’t able to climb quite so much, or walk so much for that matter. But it was still a great trip. Pictures below.

June visit from my folks

We’re way behind with our posts – reports from an April trip to France and a May trip to Italy are in various states of completion, along with a few climbing adventures and tales of home renovations. But since Mom and Dad just left a few days ago after a great visit, and we have lots of pictures that I’m sure the family will want to see, I’m just going to post a gallery rather than attempt any long descriptions that might end up getting endlessly stuck in the draft folder like the posts above.


From time to time, work takes me away for brief trips to give presentations or have meetings. Normally I don’t get much chance to see the place I’m in (or it’s not a place where there is much to see anyway) but recently I found myself with a free morning in Geneva. I’d never been there before, and really enjoyed a rambling walk through the old city and along the lake. I even managed to take a few photos.

Round Tower

The tail-end of a recent two week warm spell brought friend Fiend – fellow climber and Starcraft2 comrade – to the North East from Glasgow. Perhaps the recent alignment of the planets had something to do with such a rare occurrence of good weather before the nesting season fowled up much of the good coastal climbing here. In any case, we were instantly agreed that we would check out the Round Tower.

The Round Tower holds some of the finest extremes on the coast but does unfortunately get quite “birdy,” rendering the easier climbs unclimbable from April-September. Even after the birds leave their nests, their nests remain. The Round Tower is also home to the coveted local E2 test-piece Tyrant Crack which adorns the North East Outcrops guidebook cover.

This route has been on my wish list for a couple years now, but conditions have conveniently kept me away from the attempt. Now we were going and I didn’t feel ready. I decided that I probably wouldn’t try that day, but rather to enjoy the routes I could do and follow Matthew up some routes that were beyond my leading ability. Even as we drove out the rain started spitting down so it seemed like I was going to be granted a reprieve after all. The rain didn’t last and the climb was nicely sheltered from the cold wind so we geared up and started with the easier routes. I started with High Voltage (HVS 5a*)  which begins by surmounting some poop-encrusted ledges that leads to a fun finishing flake on good holds.

Matthew warmed up on Ramadan (E1 5b **) the sensational arete on the right side of the tower shown in the photo above. He abseiled and cleaned his gear so I could lead it on mine. A tricky run out start over some dubious protection gains the arete and a spectacular exposed position on huge holds and perfect gear. It was hard not to linger for awhile. This is now one of my favorite climbs on the coast and really set the tone for me that day. I felt solid pulling the moves above less-than-perfect gear and the climbing above was sheer joy. Suddenly, Tyrant Crack looked not only doable, but fun!

Matthew racked up and led it and then cleaned it. Not a problem for him as he’s quite strong. My turn next. I climbed up and placed some gear and climbed down for a short rest. It’s quite strenuous placing gear in the start of this one. The difficulties are right off the start and go for a few meters, but the protection is excellent and there are many opportunities, you just have to be strong enough to hang on and place it. I was a bit sketchy getting onto the wall proper, but after that it seemed to flow pretty well and I made it to the sanctuary of “the spike” without much trouble. Above the spike, gear is sparse but what there is, is good — and the climbing gets easier. Halfway up, I couldn’t help grinning that I had it in the bag.

It started to get colder after that, but Matthew was keen for Silver Surfer (E3 5c**) a nice looking wall climb to a ledge and crack and corner finish. I was once again impressed with his ability to commit and climb confidently and safely over thin unprotected looking rock. He found good gear and made it look like HVS. I seconded on numb fingers, nearly fell off, couldn’t remove two pieces of gear and had the hot aches by the time I got to the halfway ledge. Good thing I didn’t attempt it on the lead.

We hummed and hawed over the possibility of a very green but cool looking E3 on the corner but decided that it was taking the full brunt of the strengthening north wind so I finished up on the “not well protected” Life of Brian (E1 5a**) which is a big traverse across the back of the crag. With two distinct cruxes and not much gear this climb gently rises up and right to the top of the crag with the final crux a committing series of thin moves on lichen-covered rock well away from the last bits of questionable gear. I climbed out and back several times before committing. There was always the option of escaping up an easy corner, but I was glad that I finished it properly as it was quite the exhilarating finish and overall very satisfying climbing and a fine conclusion to a great day out.