US troops in Iraq orphan five kids

According to the BBC, on tuesday US troops in Iraq shot at a car approaching a checkpoint:

Inside the car were an Iraqi family of seven. The mother and father were killed but their five children in the backseat survived, one with a non-life threatening wound.

Pictures here

How much longer is this madness going to continue?

Categories : Personal

A walk and a new desktop background

I was supposed to be helping with the helicopter lift of heather brash onto Bleaklow again today, but because of high winds it was scrubbed. As I'd already booked the day off from work, I decided I'd go for a walk anyway. I walked up to Glossop Low, up to Wain Stones then off via the top of Dowstone Clough to Ferny Hole then down Shelf Benches. I was coming down Shelf Benches just before 4:00pm as the sun was beginning to set, and snapped this image - I particularly like the clouds. Apart from running a filter over it to remove the JPEG noise introduced by the camera, I've not manipulated it at all. I toyed with making the foreground a little less dark and increasing the saturation, but I quite like it as it is - it perfectly sums up the mood of approaching dusk on a blustery Peak District winters day. I've set it as my desktop background, the limited number of colours and bold contrasts work rather well.

Shelf Benches

Categories : Peak District

An unhappy ending

As I noted in my last but one post a walker disappeared on Bleaklow on Tuesday, and there has been a huge effort to find him by the Peak District Mountain Rescue folks. They were back out yesterday, and unfortunately located a body which turned out to be that of the missing walker, Peter Henshaw. He was found in Yellowslacks, which is only about 2 km from my house, and from figuring out his probable route it is clear he was trying to get off the hill, and he nearly made it as well. I was probably less than 500 m from where he was when I was out on Thursday, as I came partways down Dowstone Clough before cutting across Harrop Moss to Glossop Low, in fact I toyed with the idea of taking the path down Lightside to get back home, which would have taken me within a few hundred metres of where he was.

Very sad :-(

Categories : Peak District

Busking for tsunami relief

Yesterday the Samba band I'm in took part in a big bash in Manchester to raise funds for tsunami relief. There were about six bands there in total, well over 100 people. We met up in the Royal Exchange Theatre building. I'd never been in there before, and it is a most impressive building. It was the Victorian Manchester cotton exchange, and as Manchester was once the cotton capital of the world, the building was built accordingly. The building was very badly damaged by the 1996 IRA bomb, but it's been sensitively restored, and the theatre has been integrated into the original fabric in a very innovative way.

As well as us there were other far more well-known names from the northwest Samba scene, including The Manchester School of Samba and Sambangra, so it interesting for us hicks from the sticks to see how we stood up against the other more well-known bands. We all moved to the corner of Marks and Spencers, but as there were a group of PLO protesters there we had to move to the end of the building, after negotiating with the very friendly policemen and policewomen who were keeping an eye on things. We had joined forces with Laszlo's (our musical director) other group, Zambura from Bury, and as a result we were the biggest group, so we got to play first. Pretty soon we'd drawn a sizeable crowd, and the security chief from Marks and Spencer's came scurrying out to see what was going on. We had a license from the city council, so apart from scowling at us there wasn't much he could do. The folks from Oxfam got busy with their collecting buckets as we were playing, and after a couple of numbers we moved back to the corner of M&S that the PLO folks had finished with and kicked off again. After our Timbalada, Tony from MSS came up to Laszlo and complemented us on our playing, which really chuffed us no end.

MSS took over from us next, so we moved our kit round the corner before taking a break for lunch, which unfortunately involved a rapid visit to Macdonalds - so we really were suffering for out art ;-) After lunch and a handful of antacids we wandered back over to where everyone else was and joined the massed bands for a huge 50+ player jam session. The directors of each band took it in turns to lead a piece, with those who knew the piece playing it and the rest of us winging it and joining in as best we could - great fun. Once again we drew quite a crowd, and as we got a round of applause and cheers at the end of each number, I guess we sounded OK! We only had a license to play for two hours (we stretched it a bit!) so by about 3:30 we had to pack up. My 11-year old son James was the youngest player there, and he had a blast - he was on an absolute high when we finished. From looking at the sea of grinning faces of all ages, it was clear he wasn't the only one who had enjoyed it, it was a truly memorable experience.

Five minutes after we finished the heavens opened on us. Bearing in mind the terrible weather we have been having over the last few days, we were extremely lucky. We decamped to the cafe in the basement of the Manchester Cathedral Visitor's centre to count the dosh. I'd never been in there before, and one side of the cafe was made up of the medieval hanging bridge (no, nothing to do with executions!) which had been buried and lost as the city grew around and eventually over it. After discarding the pre-decimal currency and used watch batteries that someone had kindly donated, we raised the magnificent sum of £750, not bad for a couple of hours of work!

We finished off the day with a few drinks in a convenient pub, followed by a (as usual) superb meal in the Yang Sing before catching the train back home - all in all a top day.

Categories : Drumming

Helicopter in the hills

The Moors For The Future project are back on the job again, spreading cut heather on Bleaklow as part of the attempt to re-vegetate the eroded peat. I helped out with loading the lift bags last year, and this year I'm getting to help with the second part of the process, airlifting the bags onto the moor. My first stint was this Wednesday - we drove up the track to Glossop Low where we were airlifted by the helicopter onto the moor:

Helicopter Helicopter

As we were walking to the drop area, a couple of guys and a dog came up to us, the dog was a rescue dog wearing a distinctive NSARDA coat, so we guessed there was a Mountain Rescue callout in progress. It turns out that someone had been missing since the previous day, and a total of six MR teams were looking for him. They asked if they could use the helicopter to help search for him, so as a result we had to mooch around for a couple of hours while they looked for him, without any success unfortunately.

Once the helicopter returned we split into two teams of three, and each team took a set of GPS coordinates where the bags were to be dropped. The helicopter can lift six bags at a go and drop them in pairs, so each team member stands where the pilot needs to drop a pair of bags. Helicopters can only hover into wind (and it was very windy and cold!), so the person who is most downwind holds their arms up to signal the helicopter for the first pair, and he works his way upwind dropping bags as he goes. It's quite disconcerting to have to stand there as half a dozen large bags come swinging towards you - the pilot comes in fast and low and drops the bags within six feet of you, sometimes closer - and he's only a short way above your head, looking at you through a window in the floor of the helicopter and a couple of tatty wing mirrors attached to the outside of the chopper:

Helicopter Helicopter Helicopter

After he's dropped one set of bags, he flies back to the staging point on Glossop Low and picks up another six, and delivers them to the other three man team. Whilst he's doing that, the first team gathers up the lifting strops and parcels them up into a rope bag so they can be taken back down to the staging point the next time around:

Helicopter

And finally, here's the result of our handywork - all the white blobs are lift bags full of heather waiting to be spread. Whilst we were waiting for the helicopter we spread some of the heather brash - it needs to be spread about 1cm thick over the bare peat, and it's surprisingly hard work - the easiest way, bearing in mind the strong wind, was to toss armfuls into the air and let the wind do the spreading.

Helicopter

We had to pack in about 3:00pm because the RAF declared a no-fly zone over Bleaklow so that they could get one of their Sea King search and rescue helicopters in to look for the missing guy - unfortunately he's still missing, and the search has been called off until Saturday, which doesn't bode well for the individual concerned :-(