Monday, September 27, 2021

learning to sail: day 2

after a lot of action and information on day 1 of the sailing course, we had a good night's sleep (my second ever night on a boat - the first one is still etched in my memory, although i'm surprised it's not on my blog!) and were up and ready for another day on the sea!

breakfast'd and tea'd up, we asked Hugh what is now to be our (and probably his) favourite question: "what's the plan?"

and so, we had our first introduction to nautical charts, tidal charts, and I finally found a use for the wind indication on my phone's weather app: to make plans!

the two main things a sailor needs to know before making plans are: wind and tide.

we checked the weather prediction for that day. i don't remember what exactly it was, but it was supposed to be a pretty calm day, light wind and (not that it mattered), no rain. it was around 10am, and we were hoping to be off in an hour, looking for a destination we could get to in time for lunch. our plan at the outset was to sail to and learn to anchor at a suitable spot, have lunch, do some tricks, and sail to bangor, a town across belfast lough. we assumed we could do a speed of 5 knots (which Hugh then explained: 5 knots = 5 nautical miles an hour. a nautical mile is slightly more than a regular mile - and in fact it has a precise relationship to distances on a map!). we then had a look at the chart, and had a look at all the places we could get to in a 10 nautical mile radius (ie getting us to anchor for lunch at 1pm). this involved a few new things for us: converting the map into actual distances on water is not as simple as it might be expected to be! the technique to find the actual distance for a given page of the nautical chart is was basically finding the divison on the chart which had a tick next to the vertical axis (latitude), at which point one minute (ie 1/60th of a degree) of latitude equals one nautical mile. one minute is further divided into 10ths which are called "cables". and each page of the map has got the horizontal distance (ie longitude) scaled so that the length corresponding to one mile in any direction is the same. all of this ended in some amusement when we decided that all these complicated distance calculations were to be converted to finger lengths to find out how far we could go 😂, but Hugh humoured us (or maybe egged us on, I don't remember 😁)

the other consideration was wind: you want to anchor at a spot where the wind is blowing away from land, as that provides a calm anchorage. wind blowing towards land gives rougher seas, and a whole lot of other problems. based on the direction of wind and distance, we found copeland island (or more specifically, a bay on the south side of the largest copeland island) to be a suitable spot to aim for.

the next thing was the tide: we first had to find the timing of the tide. each of the ports in the UK had their tide timing relative to some reference (i think it was Liverpool). it also had the high and low tide height at spring and at neap. tidal charts suggested the tide was about to turn halfway through our journey. unfortunately the tidal chart had just one number for all of belfast lough, and copeland is just slightly outside it, so it was just a rough approximation. it was something like 3 knots at its maximum, but since the tide would be turning during our journey it wouldn't be that much of a concern. on the other hand, the height of the tide was more involved to calculate - Hugh just told us we could assume it to be 3 metres, but as I was curious he showed me how he got to that number: the movement from spring to neap tides is linear, so you need to first find out which part of the cycle you currently are at, and then tide height on that day follows something of a sine wave, and you have to take the maximum and minimum, and then take the number of hours (or more precise, if you need to) before/after high tide and find that point on the curve. there's also the law of 12ths which provides a useful approximation: in the first hour, 1/12th of the water moves, in the next hour, 2/12ths (ie 1/6th), and the 3rd hour it's 3/12ths (ie 1/3rd). this assumes full tides are 12 hours apart, which they aren't, but this is close enough if the tidal range isn't much (it was 2 metres or so) and we were anyway at the time the tide turns so the change in depth won't be much.

finally, we had to plot our course. Hugh mentioned the various ways to do so: using the compass and a bearing (ie direction), various waypoints, aligning features on land and water, both forward as well as backward. we had to also ensure we stayed clear of any hazards, and the one shipping lane nearby.

we then looked at the wind direction again and checked if we could sail or if we would have to use the motor. Hugh explained the various points of sail - close haul, beam reach, broad reach and run. we spent some time trying to understand why we couldn't sail closer to the wind than a close haul, and how the sail and wind are aligned (the best angle is 45 degrees) and how the boat is oriented with the sail and the wind during each of those points of sail. we looked at the chart again and our course, which consisted of some 3 different steps, and decided we could sail to the copeland islands (or at least, try).

there was one last thing: finding a good anchorage spot. we looked at the contours on the map, combined with the tidal height, and the information that we would look to anchor at a spot not more than 6 metres deep. once we found it, Hugh explained a technique (i forgot the name) of how we find our way to that spot by keeping a fixed direction and speed, and measuring the distance in advance. we converted cables on the map into fractions of a nautical mile, assumed a speed of 5 miles, and calculated that we had to head in that direction for precisely 5 minutes to get to our anchor spot.

preparation done, we had one last cup of tea, a couple of us popped seasickness tablets, and we were off to sail - this time with a lot more understanding of what we were about to do!

we uncovered the mainsail and attached the halyard to its head, setup the lines to slip (ie replacing all the bowlines with loops around the pontoon cleats, tied with ox knots on the boat), fenders ready, slipping the lines - this part seemed quite familiar after yesterday's practice. once moving we untied the fenders from the sides and tied them at the stern. getting out of the marina we again used the lights to guide us out until we got far enough to get the sails out. by this time we were about an hour behind schedule, but we didn't notice (or say it aloud if anyone did). getting the mainsail out involved pointing the boat directly into the wind and pulling the halyard, first by hand (with someone "sweating" at the mast) and then with the winch. after some misadventures (I don't remember precisely what but I do remember it was less than perfect 😜) the main sail was up, and Hugh taught me how to switch off the engine. we were sailing! we unfurled the jib, and Hugh showed us how to watch the telltales. we also learned to adjust the mainsail based on the point of sail (although I don't remember any more - I must revise this!). Hugh said the main thing is the skipper needs to ensure the boat is at a constant bearing and the sails need to be adjusted till they're taut and filled. any bit of flapping or the telltales dropping (on jib or mainsail) is a sign that things are not perfect. this is in contrast to what I remember doing when sailing in Mumbai 10 years ago - back then I was disctinctly told to keep the boat pointed so that the sails stay full, instead of the other way around!

we tweaked the sails all we could, but the boat was still doing a leisurely 4 knots of speed: this was probably because we were late and the tide wasn't helping us as much as we had hoped it would (or at all, possibly). there was a bit of a debate on board, and Hugh asked the skipper to decide if we would continue to try to get to Copeland island for lunch, or do some random manoeuvres instead (tacks and jibes). I personally was more keen on learning to sail than I was to get to any specific spot for lunch,  and I suspect Hugh felt the same. Copeland sounded tempting though and the skipper got to decide so we decided to press on - I'm sure Hugh's sailing brain was forming plans of things to teach us along the way anyway, and we had the sail back from Bangor to learn some sailing basics too. and of course, it was a lovely sunny day, we had planned our course, and it's not everyday that one gets to a barely inhabited island (someone even knew some of the history of the island!) so no regrets! we furled the jib, took down the mainsail (another adventure - pointing the boat into the wind is not as easy as it might sound, and the slightest deviation makes the sail very hard to handle!). we followed our plan as closely as we could (i dare say I completely forgot it and completely relied on Hugh's directions, although I suspect some of the other folks were doing a far better job than I was 🤷‍♂️

when we got to our desired depth of a little under 6 metres, which was comfortably off the coast but close enough to see it quite well, Hugh taught us to drop the anchor. I was up front with him as he explained the calculation of how much anchor to let out (chain = 4x the depth, chain + rope = 6x the depth). we had 10 metres of chain on the anchor and the rest was rope. Hugh unshackled the anchor from the bow of the boat and counted off the length of rope as we let the anchor down. at the same time, there was an orange buoy ("Timmy") tied to the anchor with 6 metres of light rope which we also tossed overboard with some ceremony - this buoy marks our anchor, so we know if we're being blown about, we don't motor over the anchor rope by accident, and it lets others know "something" is there. there was also something else he mentioned - I think it's about being able to free the anchor if it gets stuck on the seabed, and an interesting anecdote about how Timmy ended up with a brother Jimmy due to the time the anchor had to be cut off and was presumed lost, only to be rescued days (or weeks?) later - apparently Timmy helped locate the lost anchor! anchor rope let out, we then reversed away from it until the rope was tight - this ensures the anchor digs into the ground and doesn't come loose.

secured, it was time for lunch: sandwiches (and tea, obviously) put together by our self-nominated chef and eaten on deck with the lovely sun on us!


surprisingly there was even network, and I managed to uplaod the photo before digging in 😎

Lunch done, it was time to retrieve the anchor. After that, we did something called fairy gliding: a technique where you hold the boat steady at an angle to the water, using the motor to keep it stationary and using the pressure of the water against the keel to drift the boat sideways. pretty cool, and also a tool to help you get into certain tight marinas where the current flows across the entrance making any other means of entry tricky (or dangerous).

Around this time, I was given the helm - a proud moment for me! For this leg of our journey we were not following any precise directions as far as I know - simply motoring away in the general direction of Bangor, avoiding the shore and finding things on the chart-plotter (the touchscreen instrument at the helm) to aim for on the horizon. I enjoyed being at the helm, and everyone else got a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery. fun! we passed by Ballyholme and turned towards Bangor marina... but not without some photos!



the tide was with us getting towards Bangor, and we were there pretty quickly. Hugh guided me into the marina as we radioed in and asked for a berth. the radio script went something like: "bangor marina, bangor marina, this is yacht trinculo requesting a berth. over." to which they responded with the berths available. couple of basics: when starting the conversation always start with the recipient said twice so that someone hearing it has a second chance to pay more attention. also, every message has to include the name of the yacht sending the message and end with over. pretty simple!

We were given a choice of a few berths, so we went in to the marina to have a look before getting partly out and back in to finally park properly. being a rather nice Sunday evening, there were plenty of boats moving about, and it was an interesting experience, keeping away from various walls and markers (and hidden rocks, including some at a spot where Hugh remembered there being a marker but there wasn't any now!), and following the rules of right-of-way: in short, you always keep right (ie the exact opposite of driving on a road). once we saw the spots we could use and picked the one we would, I had to reverse back out to a part of the marina Hugh called the "pond", which was large enough for the boat to turn around. I then reversed all the way back to the pontoon, and at the very end, turned off the engine and coasted into position: it was really smooth, basically first aiming for one point, then as the boat got nearer, aiming for the next one, and the final one to get it into position. if the layout of the boat allows it, it's much easier to steer in reverse if you physically move to the other side of the wheel, isntead of looking over your shoulder and turning the wheel in the oppsite direction as you usually would. Hugh must have done all the thinking about wind direction etc, because it was straightforward for me to get the boat into position while everyone else was fumbling around with ropes and fenders 😁

once we were secured and the engine off, everyone said it was very well done! i was definitely feeling good about myself although I know I was merely following instructions - apparently that's not very easy to do perfectly as well!

we settled in for dinner, and then headed off for a walk into Bangor, to stretch our legs and stock up on bread and milk (we were drinking way more tea than Hugh calculated, I'm sure 😂). this being Sunday evening, most shops were closed, and we ended up taking a much longer walk than intended (almost an hour!), but I enjoyed it.

back at the boat, we settled in for the night, again exhausted by very satisfied. things were making a lot more sense now, and I had an idea of not just what to do, but also why. brilliant!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

learning to sail: day 1

 yes, i know, i still haven't finished blogging the stuff covered in my driving lessons even though those were over 2 years ago (it's been 2 years since i passed my test last month - talk about being late!), but my sailing lessons are probably more noteworthy 😁

anyway, before i start: just like everything else that i seem to do, this was by coincidence too. the first time i've been on a sailboat was 11 years or so. i thoroughly enjoyed it, but never ended up sailing again after those 3 weekends on the water. it was always on my list though, so i attended the open day at the carrickfergus sailing club two years ago, and that was the first time i was on the water in this country. right after that, a colleague told be about a facebook group where people in NI look for and offer themselves to be crew on sailboats, with all levels of experience and expertise being welcomed. i joined that group, and offered to crew, was contacted by people who wanted crew, and finally the pandemic happened before i could actually set sail.

and then, last month (or was it july?) someone asked if anyone offers training. and unlike my usual experience of facebook, the post and one of the comments showed up in my notifications. i contacted Hugh of WaveRides, and booked myself in. I was going to learn to sail!

the course is for 5 days, and is usually done at a stretch (including 4 nights on the boat), but my office situation necessitated me to split it into 3 days and 2, which Hugh agreed to despite it not being his usual pattern (I was basically blocking a spot on two courses which is not great for the school, but i'm glad he allowed me that!).

the list of things to bring along was quite reasonable, and didn't need me to buy much besides a pair of deck shoes - regular trainers have large grips which tend to pick up gravel/pebbles that can scratch the boat, and deck shoes are waterproof + designed to be grippy on deck, which is always textured for grip to begin with.

i was at carrickfergus marina at 9am, where i met the my co-students and the people who had come to drop them off (i on the other hand had to drop myself off 😜), and Hugh, our instructor.

basic housekeeping (ie showing us where the marina toilets were) done, we made out way to the boat, with everyone else's luggage in a trolley and mine in my backpack (i packed light!).

we were shown to the Trinculo, a Sigma 400 (the 9th of 15 ever built), a rather nice yacht, defintely better than any i've set foot on before. once we popped our bags in we sat around on the deck, and Hugh started our training.

the first item was safety: how to make sure your life vest is on perfect and why it's best to always have it on. how to reduce your chances of taking an unplanned swim (ie using the harnesses), what to do in case someone falls over, and especially what to do in case Hugh falls over 😜. the other risk is of having to evacute the boat in an emergency: how the life raft works, how it's activated, the emergency bag and what's in it, the types of flares and how they are to be used (and some interesting stories about how they're disposed). then came fires: the types of fires, where they're most likely, and what to do (and not do) in each situation. the location of the fire extinguishers, smoke/carbon  monoxide alarms, and why it's important to be on your guard against fire at all times, with a few anecdoes about instances where things have gone terribly wrong (thankfully, none involving Hugh or anyone on this boat, or the boat itself!).

we were shown around the inside of the boat, especially the sleeping quarters, cabin, galley (ie the kitchen), toilets, engine bay, radio... and most importantly, the kettle and snack stash, which are probably the two things on the boat we used the most 😂



next, we got to the parts of the boat, and especially the names for them. the helm, mast, boom, vang, main sail, jib or genoa, rigging, fenders, cleats, fairleads, winches, compass, chart plotter, and the engine control (i forgot what it's called 😁).

then came the ropes (also called lines). there were a baffling array of them, but Hugh reassured us there were only 5 ropes on the boat we needed to know about: the main sheet, halyard, jib sheets (there are two of them) and the furler.

after that, we had an overview of the knots we needed to know. the round turn and two half hitches used to tie fenders to stanchions (ie the railing), the cleat hitch used to tie a line to the boat or the jetty, and the bowline, which is the knot used to tie a line to the jetty when the boat will be tied up for a while.

we were shown how to coil ropes so that they don't bunch/tangle and also stay organized. we were also shown where the ropes were stored on this boat. and the last step: how to make a lasso and use it to lasso cleats on the jetty - very useful when you need to park the boat!

we were shown how the locks on the lines work, how the winches work on this boat (i assume they work differently on other boats, but the principles would be the same), how to hold ropes, pull them, secure them, and how to release them from the winch with fine amounts of control if required. some of the winches also had a mechanism to lock the rope. "sweating", a technique to make ropes easier to pull. also, how we store ropes when sailing and when not sailing.

with all that knowledge under our belt, we went off and did some practice with the ropes: lassoing cleats, tying them, tying fenders. i managed to do a decent job after a couple of tries - much to my surprise! i've been terrible with knots all my life, but i guess having a purpose automatically made me better 😂

we then took a quick break for lunch, which was sandwiches, more tea (yes, i had already drunk more tea that morning than i usually would in a week 😜).

lunch, more tea and an informal q&a session later, we were ready to set off... once we were told how!

getting a boat untied and freely floating (also called "slipping") involves a few steps: first, since we're planning to sail, we take the mainsail cover off to make things easier once we're out and about, and pack it away. there was also the bit about attaching the halyard to the top of the mainsail - locking it in place is very important! once locked, it has to be threaded into the mast, through the "monkey nuts" (no points for guessing what they look like 😂) next, we untie the 3rd line that was used to keep the boat from swinging about when parked, since we only need 2 lines to keep the boat tied securely: the bow line and the stern line. we then replaced the bowline knots with a loop around the cleats on the jetty and a cleat hitch on the boat (so basically all the knots are on the boat, freeing us to "slip" from on the boat, instead of untying and jumping on). we were then taught how to slip: one person at each line unties one end from the cleat on the boat and holds it firmly. when the skipper calls "ready to slip" and both people reply that they're ready the skipper calls to "slip", which involves letting go of the end that has been untied, and pulling the other end back quickly. it should be done quickly enough that the boat is free in seconds. once the rope is about to be off the cleat, the person at the bow or stern slipping the respective rope calls out "bow slipped" or "stern slipped" so that the skipper knows the boat is free and can be powered out. the other thing to pay attention to while slipping is the fenders: in windy conditions, the boat may be blown about and the fenders are the first line of defense against collisions. everyone without a task assigned gets a "roving fender", which is a fender that they take to whichever spot the boat might collide with something else.

we had a couple of practice attempts at slipping the rope, and once confident, we were ready to go!

we slipped without a hitch (no puns intended) and were floating free in the marina. i coiled up the slip ropes and put them away, while others handled the fenders and the helm.

once out of the marina we were showed how carrickfergus marina makes it easy for boats to get in and out using the deepest part of the channel: there are 3 lights, one green, one red and one white. on the way out, the green light indicates you're on the left of the channel, red indicates you're on the right, and white indicates you're in the channel.

once we were out a bit, it was time to pull up the fenders, tie them to the back of the boat, unfurl the sails, and sail away!

the first step is to point the boat directly into the wind (as that's the only direction the sail can be pulled up and down without catching the wind), under low power (as the rudder only has control when moving). we then pull the mainsail up tight using the halyard (once the sail has reached the top of the mast, the tightness can be guaged from the edge of the sail next to the mast) - towards the end you can feel the weight of the sail and you need some help, from someone "sweating" the rope, or winching (or both!).

we then point the boat at an angle to the wind, depending on where we want to sail, and let the mainsail fill up. that gets the boat sailing!

next up, someone pulls the furler a bit to free the jib, and then depending on the direction we want to sail, we pull the appropriate jib sheet to the point where the telltales rise up and are beginning to float horizontally instead of hanging vertically from the jib.

the rest of the afternoon was a blur of doing what we were told: pull this line, tie that line, etc. we got to use the stuff that was pointed out to us in the morning, although i didn't really understand most of what i was doing.

before we knew it, it was almost 6 and time to furl the sails and head back into the marina. first, the jib, using the furler (you know the sail is furled when the sheet wraps one turn around it), then the main sail - it has to be folded as it's brought down, by releasing it 1 metre at a time and folding it on alternate sides. as it's folded, "sail ties" are used to make sure the folds stay in place. fenders out, slip ropes ready to lasso, and we headed back in. we managed to get the ropes lassoed, pulled and tied it tight, covered the main sail, and we were done for the day!

 a lovely dinner had been popped into the oven for us, and we polished it off, seconds and all. dinner time conversation drifted from thoughts about the day to all sorts of random banter, and we were finally treated to a firework show that happened to be on at carrickfergus castle - a nice end!

day one was super amazing, and i was happy that i had learned so much... and hoped i'd remember it all!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

mega-island? no, gigha island!

this post is a little late, but better late than never!

cut back to may 2021: travel within the UK was beginning to open up, and we had the May bank holiday, with no particular plans.

by a random coincidence, one of the sailing groups had a post about the only restaurant reopening on an island. and that the food was amazing.

i put the name of the island into google. it showed a 250 mile ride and two ferries. and that the island was just 7 miles long and wild campers were welcome.

and so, we packed our tent and sleeping bags and headed off.

the ferry to scotland was packed. in fact, it had the most motorbikes we've ever seen on the ferry - there was literally no room in the bike parking area in the bottom deck of the ferry! we wondered if everyone had the same idea we did. but once we rode off on the other side, the rush started thinning almost immediately. by the time we got to loch lomond, our breath had already been taken away by the mesmerizing scottish countryside.

we were somehow cutting it close though: even though I estimated 3 and a half hours of buffer, google maps started doing its usual and acted up: it decided the best route involved us taking ANOTHER ferry, and by the time we realized we were on the wrong highway, we were already half an hour off course. our lunch ate into a good chunk of our buffer (shruti insisted supermarket sandwiches wouldn't cut it), and once we were back on the correct route we had to deal with a lot of urban traffic, followed by countryside highways which were being repaired.

by around 2:30pm, google maps showed our ETA was 5:50pm, and the last ferry to gigha was at 6pm.

some crazy riding ensued (i did not break any speed limits, although i certainly was tempted!). we made it 5 minutes faster than the google maps ETA - literally just enough time to pee at the public toilets at the ferry terminal as we watched the boat dock and people disembark.

luckily for us, the ferry was relatively empty (just one campervan, one car and us) - and we were soon across on this lovely island!


we quickly got our bearings on the island, asked around, and set off in search of a suitable spot to pitch our tent. both extremes of the island (north and south) had all the prime camping spots taken up, and the one decent-ish spot had a big group of campers who already seemed quite loud and tipsy, so we decided to look more carefully elsewhere.

our spot was perfect: slightly behind a mound, so not very obvious, not in a fenced-off field, so fair game - and with a lovely view of the ocean!

parking vicki in the mud was a nervous experience, but we managed to prop up the stand from sinking on the mud with rocks. the tent was also on a bit of an incline, but it was manageable.

we rode back to the restaurant, barely 10 minutes before their last order, and were not disappopinted. absolutely fresh seafood, eaten facing a little sandy cove, with lots of happy people at nearby tables. we also had the weird experience of a rather tipsy lady giving us hug when we said we're from india, to the embarassment of her companion. yes, that was my first hug with someone other than shruti since march 2020. strange!



The next day was basically our only day to explore the island, and after a good night's sleep and coffee/breakfast, we were ready to explore this hidden gem!


Our first stop was the only shop on the island - and since it was Sunday, and there was a TV serial being shot on the ialsnd, and the shop was one of the shooting locations, it was open for precisely one hour: 11am to noon. We joined the queue, purchased the few snacks we needed for the day, and then purchased our takeaway lunch, which was also locally caught seafood. 

we rode to and then walked through "Ardmore gardens" to find a sunny spot for our lunch. I'd have never imagined steamed mussels in a takeaway box with a wooden fork (which eventually gave way and I had to use my hands 😂) could compete (and win) against all the fine-dining experiences i've had!


And the biggest surprise awaited us: there was a stately peacock roaming the garden!



After lunch, we climbed to the highest point of the island, which wasn't really that high, but had quite a view!

We then found a nice beach, and I took a quick dip after a few sips of cider - perfect for the almost-blazing sun!

We walked as far along the shore as we could, and it was close to 6pm when we decided to head back to the only restaurant on the island.

That's when a bit of a nasty surprise awaited us: the restaurant was completely sold out. They said they had no food to serve. Like, absolutely nothing. Plenty of alcohol, but no food. The kitchen was open for another 3 hours, but every single item of food in stock had been ordered. Luckily, we had purchased stuff for Monday's breakfast, and decided to have it for dinner instead. we still had a bit of sunlight left though, so we cut across sheep-dotted fields to get to another of the high points of the island, home to the windmills that power it.


Back in our tent, we settled in for the night, and after an early start, we packed up and were ready to bid farewell to the island! this time, we didn't take any chances with time, and were on the 10am ferry which gave us another hour on our return journey than we had on our way here. the decision served us well, and we had plenty of time, even to squeeze a couple of scenic breaks on the way back. the weather was great, and just being near the sea all day was everything we could ask for.
Probably the best way to spend a long weekend this corner of the UK!

Monday, September 20, 2021

what happened?

I haven't blogged for 76 days, which is probably a personal worst.

and the funny thing is, unlike the last few months of lockdown, it's not because i've not been up to much worth blogging - in fact, quite the opposite.

we travelled to London in July for a much awaited break - visiting friends for the first time since the start of lockdown. while we enjoyed the break itself, we did feel quite uncomfortable by the fact that our flights were quite literally packed, we took loads of trains that although not as busy as they would be on a normal work day, still were far more crowded than spaces we've been in, since the pandemic began. we ate out a fair bit, including in crowded-ish restaurants, although we did also spend more time outdoors than we usually would - basically it was about as close to normal as we could get, with the exception of wearing masks. and the fear.




luckily for us, we got back, got ourselves tested, and were all clear. phew!

we then purchased our first car. a pretty old one, but it has 4 wheels and moves under its own power, so it counts.




then came August. This time it was a longer vacation, but didn't involve meeting people.

Lake district was spectacular - better than we remembered it from our first visit 4 years ago, and that was just one day. This was 9 whole days. Loads of hiking, stuffed to the gills with awesome food, and plenty of miles on Vicki. I couldn't have imagined a better way to turn 38! Except for the addition of cake, of course, but that's probably because we were too stuffed with sticky toffee pudding and other goodies to bother with lowly cake 😁



This time, we were also less nervous than the London trip, because COVID-19 seemed to be genuinely on the decline, everyone was wearing masks when indoors (London seemed to be about 70%) and much better behaved social-distancing wise. And of course, we were mostly outdoors and did not use public transport at all.

Barely two weeks after our return, we had our first guests in our new home: Nickolai and Damian were over for Damian's birthday and some exploring of the Irish countryside. That half-week went by in a blink, and it was September already.


Imran, another old buddy from uni days was over from London at the end of his week-long trip along Ireland. He was only over for 2 days, but it was a good two evenings catching up and showing him a few of the sights of the city. And then, before he even left, I was on my next mini-vacation: a sailing course, which included living aboard a yacht!

One week later, we're already in the second half of September, and I have another weekend of sailing coming up, followed by a live gig (our first since the pandemic struck), a bit of volunteering over weekends... and I'm sure October will be over before we realize it too!

and so, in short, that's what happened!

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

the value of life

another friend passed away. unexpected and untimely.

it doesn't really hit me as much as it used to, 10 years or so ago.

it's just another reminder that my own life will end - sooner or later.

and i don't want it to end with regrets.

so... what do i want it to end with?

it seems to me that there are two measures of our lives - hedonistic and altruistic.

how much value do we bring to ourselves, and how much value we bring to others.

the value we bring to ourselves - it keeps us going, but it dies with us.

the value we bring to others - it might indirectly bring value to ourselves (studies show it does, but those studies are statistical and not empirical in nature), but it's the only thing that outlives us.

and really, what's the point of bringing value to others, if not as some sort of ego-pleasing "people will appreciate/miss/admire/... me"? the idea that the value of my life can be expected to outlive my physical existence?

it seems to me the people who live for themselves might be happier than those who live for others.

but those who live for themselves (i don't count myself as one of them) probably don't want to see themselves as some sort of selfish life-and-energy-sucking-being.

so...

what is the intrinsic value of a human life, no matter how good it has been, other than prolong our species' race to either extinction or destruction of everything other than our species to as much of an extent as we can? would it simply be more valuable to bring our species tyranny to an end sooner? or are we holding out against hope, expecting to someday do better than we have so far?

what, really, is the value of life?

what should be the value of life?

what should be the value of my life?

is there even a concept of value of life?

Saturday, June 26, 2021

My story for the Sustrans Active Travel Challenge 2021

  1. What journeys do you currently do cycling/walking/and/or using public transport to get to work, to do the school run, to go to shops, to get to leisure activities, for example? 

    I prefer cycling wherever possible – to get to work (pre-pandemic), to go to shops, and also to visit places in and around Belfast if they're within an hour's distance on cycle each way. I have occasionally ventured further, mainly along national cycling routes. I usually cycle alone, but occasionally also with my partner. My partner prefers walking, so we occasionally walk to shops. We sometimes walk together for our weekly shop with my cycle, and use it to carry groceries back in the panniers. My partner does not drive, so she uses public transport if she needs to get somewhere beyond walking distance. She has a folding cycle that she can take on buses with ease. I also like swapping items for free over networks such as freecycle, and I have explored a lot of Belfast on cycle while collecting and dropping off items to other like-minded freecyclers.

  2. What are the benefits for you of walking and cycling and or using public transport for everyday journeys?

    I feel more connected to my locality, and have also learned a lot more about my neighbourhood and Belfast in general. As a newcomer to the city, cycling helped me learn the layout of Belfast and explore it in a way I wouldn’t have if I got around by other means of transport. Joining a few walking groups has helped me meet people and socialize when I was new to the city. I occasionally cycle with friends, during the pandemic, as this has been the only safe way to meet people outdoors. I have recently also started walking with people from my local area as a way to connect with my neighbours.

  3. When, if at all, do you walk, cycle or run during your leisure time, simply for the purpose of getting exercise?  What do you do?

    I cycle as a means of combining exercise with my shopping/commute, and take detours or lengthen my rides when I have the time and energy to turn a chore into something more enjoyable and fulfilling.

    I walk with my neighbours and partner, and especially have taken to exploring cavehill on foot as it’s very close to my home.

    I have taken up running in the past as a means of exercise, and while I found it very energizing and fulfilling, I find it much harder to maintain my fitness to the level that I can enjoy running, when compared walking and cycling.

  4. What impact did lockdown have on your walking, cycling, use of public transport and exercise habits?

    I avoid public transport wherever possible, cycling instead. Lockdown has put greater focus on my health and I have tried to maintain a healthy schedule of walking and cycling to keep my body fit. Working from home had caused me to become overly sedentary and I had to commit to doing two hours of cycling every week to maintain my physical and mental health. Before lockdown, I would have a much higher activity level as I would cycle to work daily.

  5. Why you would encourage people to participate in the active travel challenge this year?  Did you take part in 2019?

    I did not feel the need to take part in the active travel challenge in past years as I was already primarily getting around on cycle after my move to Belfast. I have found that cycling is a great way to get around, beat traffic, stay healthy and enjoy the outdoors. Even when the weather is not perfect, cycling is still fun if you’re prepared and dress appropriately. My own experience with cycling has been immensely positive and I would encourage others to try it, as there is an impression that cycling is expensive, unsafe, and impractical, but it’s neither of these. I will take part in the 2021 active travel challenge as I have now realized that my example might inspire others to follow my footsteps and embrace getting around on cycle and on foot.



Wednesday, June 23, 2021

dear diary

during the times i've kept a physical diary (about 10 years, but with very erratic frequency), i've found that my diary helped me put things in perspective, give structure to my day, or sometimes, just give me a private outlet to vent my inner feelings.

during the times i've kept an electronic diary (my first blog, i.e.) which spanned about 3 years of almost daily writing, i found that i got none of those benefits - but it was more accessible, and i think i ended up going back to it to read more often.

now that both are temporarily inaccesible (my physical diary is in another country, and my electronic diary is in a database which I could probably read if i tried, although the website designed to present it is long-defunct), and I feel like i really need the things that writing a diary gave me, i'm wondering what I should do - restart a physical diary, or restart an electronic one?

i.e., do i write a diary that's more useful to write, or more useful to read?  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

optimism, pessimism, realism... or none of these

i used to think of myself as an optimist: one who sees the best possible outcome in everything.

but i realized that optimism unfounded in reality is not just pointless, it's self-defeating.

and so i decided to be realistic.

but there is actually no such thing as realistic.

reality continues to confound me in unpredictable, unforseen ways.

sometimes, when i realize this, i become pessimistic.

at other times, i just choose to ignore the realization and plod on, mindlessly.

eat, sleep, work, repeat.

at those times, i try not to think too much. because when i start thinking, i can't stop.

what's the point of it all?

what happens when the things (i use that term loosely) that are supposed to give meaning, actually end up taking it away?

it's a strange place to find myself in, and i find myself in the same strange place time and again.

perhaps it's still time to eat, sleep, work and hope i can keep this repeating until things change. in my head, or in the world around.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

post-second-wave?

it's ironic that a little under a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the pandemic being over. it certainly wasn't!

once again, pandemic restrictions are easing up, we can finally do things we couldn't do for the last few months, like travelling, meeing friends, eating out. and all of that is nice.

but there's evidence that this isn't the end of the pandemic. there's already the numbers creeping up in parts of the UK, even though everyone with authority is currently maintaining it's not cause for concern.

there is a research paper I read yesterday about how the most popularly administered vaccine in the UK (and India) isn't very effective against the newest strain of COVID-19.

and of course, the situation in some parts of the world hasn't improved as much as it's improved in the parts we've been paying attention to.

on one hand it makes me happy that most of the world has learned to live with the pandemic.

on the other hand, it makes me sad that the divide between those who have and those who haven't has widened.

i feel that more than ever, it's time the "haves" step-up and focus on helping the "have-nots" level up. not just for altruistic reasons, but because the world really needs it. the pandemic happened for the same reason, and it has played out exactly the way it has, for the same selfish reasons.

the sooner we realize selifhs behaviour only works in the short-tem, the sooner we can build a better world for everyone (including ourselves).

Friday, June 04, 2021

the heartbeat of memories

it's strange how easy it is to fall into this mode of "nothingness" even though you're doing the right things.

I think I have observed this over and over again, but never realized why.

Funnily enough, today, I ended up listening to a podcast by Dr Julia Shaw (more like the soundtrack of a recording of a presentation she gave employees of my workplace) that reminded me why, in a simple line: "the heartbeat of your mind has been missing"

Life during the pandemic has (for me) actually been objectively better than pre-pandemic. Yes, I might be among the lucky few who can say that.

But it has also been more of a blur than any other time of my life. And it's probably because my mind has been missing its' heartbeat.

I've been too bored to shake things up, when there have been more opportunities than ever to do so.

Luckily for me, it's Friday evening, I have taken up a few new challenges (8000 steps a day for the month of June, 51 minutes of cycling or running a week to celebrate 51 years since the start of the "pride" movement), joined a book club with old friends I've been out of touch with, and hopefully, in a week or two, I'll be embarking on a new project.

Let's hope I can keep my mind active and beating, and keep changing things over the months and years to come!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

anti-social media

the less you use Facebook, the more dysfunctional it seems to get. is their algorithm bad or is there a subtle plot to encourage people to be regular users? same experience with Instagram too, until I finally uninstalled it 🤦‍♂️ 

stepping away from twitter for a few years and then getting back made me realize it was always a super-high signal to noise ratio that wasn't useful unless I spent hours on it.

is social media dead? has social media always been dead? 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

setup your own domain and "burner" email addresses

Ever since I purchased krist0ph3r.com 7 years ago, I have been figuring what best to do with what seemed like a frivolous purchase.

Having a handy link for this blog is nice, but the biggest use has actually been quite unanticipated: using "burner" email addresses for sites i sign up to. this means I can sign up to every site with a unique email address, and nobody knows it's the same human. which makes my online experience much safer and more private than the average internet user.

If you think this is something you want/need to do, this is my handy guide - takes about 10 minutes if you know what you're doing, maybe a little more if you sign up with a user-unfriendly domain service. for reference, it took me a couple of days to get right the first time, but has worked absolutely perfectly ever since - so perfectly, that i completely forgot how I did it when a friend asked me to replicate the setup for him!

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Buy your domain. It could be any domain (.com or the more interesting/quirky/local TLDs all will work). Just make sure you buy it from a provider that offers a basic control panel that allows you to setup custom DNS records. Nothing fancy, just custom MX and TXT records. Ask their sales team if you aren't sure. This is (at the time of writing) your only expense for the most basic setup. I've used namecheap.com (because it's cheap! but it's also probably the simplest interface to get the job done. Takes no more than 5 minutes here if you're a slow reader) but I have also used other providers that I can't remember any more, and all of them have worked well. Notably, godaddy.com works but is super user-unfriendly as I discovered while helping a friend do his setup yesterday. I haven't tried this with subdomains, so no idea if you can set that up - DNS does support subdomains but I haven't tried to even read up.
  2. Setup an email address to receive your emails. Could be any address on any provider, a new one or an existing one (in which case no setup required - but I don't recommend this). I use gmail, because it allows some interesting things (and used to allow more things than it currently supports, unfortunately they've been trying to monetize the platform so things aren't as easy/free any more). For the basic stuff, any email will do.
  3. Signup at improvmx.com - this is the site that makes the catch-all burner email setup possible. It's free at the time of writing, and has been free for at least 7 years now, with some premium features that you don't need to get this setup done. They need your domain, and the email you need to forward it to. Don't create aliases unless you need this - just one (*) will do the job.
  4. Use the step-by-step view at improvmx.com for guidance regarding the DNS setup. In short, it's two things: setting up 2 MX records (to route mails from your domain to improvmx's servers) and a TXT record so improvmx knows it's you. I had my domain without the TXT record all these years and it worked, so I'm assuming the TXT record bit has been added in the last few years. For completeness, these are the two MX records I needed setup:
    • Host: @  Value: mx1.improvmx.com Priority: 10
    • Host: @  Value: mx2.improvmx.com Priority: 20
  5. Wait a few minutes for DNS records to propagate (shouldn't take too long, but you never know - 30 minutes max). Send a test mail (send it from an unrelated email address to be sure it's working) and it should show up in your inbox! Improvmx is quick and reliable :)
All geeky happiness aside, this solution has one glaring deficiency: you can't easily send mail from your burner email addresses. Sending mail needs a SMTP server and while these used to be common a few years ago, they aren't any more (for a good reason - SMTP servers open to 3rd party domains are the easiest target to bounce spam mail off!). My own solution is to setup a SMTP server on my own machine, dynamic dns aka ddns (namecheap comes with ddns support and a "beta" client, not bad!), port forwarding on my router, and finally point my gmail to it. And only turn it on when I need to send a mail - because I don't want spammers to be taking advantage of my pc! This is definitely not for the faint-hearted/technologically challenged, and definitely not as easy as getting incoming mail setup. There are easier ways to do this, but these aren't free, so I haven't bothered trying them out.

Either way, that's it for now. I might write the SMTP/outgoing mail guide later, and I definitely need to write up the bit where you can point your domain and custom subdomains to your blog(s) - probably more for myself than anyone else.

Have fun and stay safe!

Friday, March 26, 2021

boring

this is probably not the first time i'm feeling this in the last one year... but i'm bored. proper bored.

i'm on top of my work, email, chores, sleep.

i have a decent balance of entertainment via music, movies, south park, books, blogs, web-comics, chatting with friends (somehow even my friends don't seem to be chatting as much as they used to).

i've been cycling when i can. more than usual, in fact.

nothing interesting is happening at the moment. all the interesting things that could happen are time-bound and will/might happen sometime in the future.

i don't even have weird dreams any more.

Friday, March 12, 2021

the path to normal

it's reassuring to see news of COVID-19 infection and death rates falling, hearing about vaccination successes, and reading about leaders' reassurances that this unlock is "one way" and we can firmly put the last 12 months behind us.

the timing couldn't be better, as today is exactly one year since I started working from home, as part of the pre-pandemic precautions by my employer.

it's easy to see normal as the way things were before the pandemic hit: meeting friends and family, traveling for vacations, not having to worry about how close we were to others, or even the chances of infecting each other (one slice of wedding cake shared by 8 people on our wedding day, seems quite unimaginable now!)

but this return to normal is also an opportunity to not normalize things we did earlier without thinking about the consequences. everyone's list will be different, but here's mine:

  • physical activity and the outdoors: i never realized how much my well being is dependent on it. going out is forced on you if you're commuting, but when working from home, it really becomes vital. and that's when I realized the quality of "outdoors" matters - as does the quality of activity when outdoors.
  • food: in the rush of our daily lives pre-pandemic, food often took a backseat. just throw something together, eat it, pack the leftovers for tomorrow, eat in a hurry, eat while working. but one year of working from home and eating from home taught me that there's much more to food than just that. that quick-fixes may give time but take away health and energy in exchange. sometimes immediately, sometimes long-term and subtly. after almost one year of "detox" i can't imagine going back to how things used to be.
  • relationships: one year with shruti, locked indoors for the most part, and with her even when out and about, taught me the value of maintaining healthy relationships. when we can't distract ourselves with other people, or even work, we were forced to focus on what really keeps us going. when we get back to our office lives, socializing with our respective circles, etc., we will never try to use those things as distractions/ways to tide over problems in our relationship. it's more difficult, but more rewarding.
  • free time: this year has given me more free time than ever. at the start, I pretty much ran out of things to do! not any more. I have learned to focus on things that energize me, instead of taking the easy way out and distracting myself.
  • communication: this year has been an overdose of calls, video calls, texting, and also of other less fulfilling forms of communication like forwards, endless scrolling through pointless posts and websites. i have cut down on my "online time" (ironic, given that i'm blogging at the moment) and online distractions to focus on meaningful communication.
I'm sure i'll think of more, but it's time to sleep now.

happy "new normal" to you!

Monday, February 22, 2021

doing vs influencing

it probably isn't a coincidence that human-caused climate change is getting more attention than usual these days. what with a change of US president from one who went out of his way to trash environmental commitments to one who seems to be making the right sounds so far, think-tanks focused on the post COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and catastropic climate changes in some parts of the world that are getting harder than ever to ignore even by the most entrenched naysayers and skeptics, the time seems ripe for change.

however, change is not as simple as it may seem at the outset. one wants change to have an impact, because anything else is simply a waste of time (and time, when it comes to the environmental-time-bomb, is obviously of the essence, as it has always been).

I have tried making changes personally over the years: reducing use when economically and logistically feasible (by buying non-perishable items in bulk without packaging, practically eliminating food wastage, etc), reducing my energy footprint, reusing whenever possible (I go through about 2 plastic bags a YEAR), have taken up upcycling and freecycling items when possible, and finally, recycling when reuse is not possible. but... and this is a big but: all my changes are practically insignificant.

worldwide, household waste is under 3% of all carbon emissions. and we were relatively carbon conscious all our lives to begin with (my energy footprint in Mumbai was so low, I did not have to pay electricity bills for over a year!). Right now, in the UK, I've survived 3 winters without using heating until outside temperatures dropped below 0 - barring January, my gas bill in the UK is the same as it was in Mumbai, despite higher taxes + rates per unit! Despite riding a high capacity sports tourer, my overall fuel usage is under 1/5th of what it was in India - simply because I cycle on a daily basis and ride about once a month (or maybe twice a month when we were not in a lockdown).

And so, it seems clear to me, there's not much more I can do personally by way of action to avert the climate crisis. The problem lies elsewhere.

For example, my personal network in the UK comprises of people who either walk, or (mostly) drive cars. and when they drive cars, they usually do so for short distances. one less family ferrying groceries by car for a month would save on more emissions than I have in a year of cycling! A family of 4 who switches to bulk-buying non-perishables without packaging would save twice as much plastic as I could have. But it's even simpler than that. I don't expect families to go cold-turkey and stop driving completely. Simply cutting down on trips by better planning would make a bigger difference than I possibly can. Families with infants switching to reusable diapers even a couple of times a week would reduce more non-recyclable trash than I produce in a year.

Obviously, nobody is going to wake up and make such changes of their own accord. Which is where influencing comes in.

100 people making a 1% reduction is probably better than one person making a 100% reduction (if that was even possible). 1% is such a small reduction, one may not even notice it! Something like a 50% reduction would be possible without significant impact to cost and well-being. And even that will do spectacularly if a significant number of people do it. The network effect can do wonders - when it actually takes effect.

The question is: how?

How does one motivate people to make changes?

Preaching doesn't seem to help.

Example doesn't seem to help.

Not doing anything (obviously) doesn't seem to help.

One area I feel particularly handicapped is: data. hard numbers. Or better still, tunable models.

If I could spend some time with each person in my network, I could actually help them identify easy wins. But without data, that's practically impossible, becase I'll be asking people to just go by my word. And my word might even be wrong - I am no expert myself!

If I could locate other like-minded and similarly motivated people, we could help each other get better at this.

My goal would be to get people motivated enough to identify easy wins and spread the word about techniques (as opposed to actions).

I'm sure there are many tricks I'm missing, but for starters, let's connect and figure things out.

After all, it's our world we're talking about.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

thoughts about COVID-19

a pandemic, by definition, affects the whole world. and hence, gives us a chance to see how the world reacts to it.

my own thoughts about COVID are those of gratefulness - so far. I've not been personally impacted, the lockdown has caused some discomfort and inconvenience, but also a lot of benefits. my immediate family back in India are (mostly) being sensible and safe, although in some cases the impact of public opinion, and even pressure, is visible.

but in one sense, i've learned that it's best to let go, and let freedom run its course.

my parents gave me the freedom to make my mistakes and learn, even when they worried about my well being. I remember those overnight solo rides across the country, on lonely highways, with absolutely no idea of where I am, or when I will arrive. I remember my parents giving me their warmest hugs before I walked out that door, hoping that when they wake up they see a message from me saying i've arrived at my destination, and not silence. I think back sadly about the times I've rode off without even telling them I was, simply because I couldn't sleep and I'd like to see a nice sunrise somewhere. But I don't think they remember such days sadly. they accepted it, while reminding me it worried them.

just a few years later, I haven't even realized that we have switched places - I'm the one who panics when I hear for example that my relatives were over for lunch at Christmas, that my mom has to attend building society meetings, or that my in-laws have met their neighbours. and while I try not to show it, I'm sure my feeling of surprise and sadness when they take risks I wouln't is no more than what they have felt when I have done things that seemed unnecessarily risky to them, but felt right to me.

we all have to live our lives on our own terms. that's what my parents taught me. and that's what i have to let them do too, just as they did before I was a even glimmer in their eyes. and the same goes for the rest of the world - my family, my friends, and everyone else i associate my happiness with.

the only thing I can do from afar is be there from them in whichever way I can.

and in fact, that's one of the reasons I volunteered to participate in a vaccine trial last November.

for someone who has taken huge personal risks for only selfish gains, I feel this one selfless act might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but does give me reason and purpose.

and when I was watching a random video on youtube, where Bill Gates mentioned, just in passing, the name of the vaccine I'm trialing and that it seems like a promising candidate to be rolled out in developing countries, it just made my day.

I know that the point of a trial is to find out IF something works, and how well it does, if so. and every vaccine doesn't succeed in making it to the market. but I don't care. I'm happy because I'm part of the cause.

I used to feel weird when people would ask me if I got paid to participate in the trial - and I had to say I did not. or why i'm fine with not knowing if i've had the vaccine or the placebo. or dozens of other questions. but i don't feel weird any more.

All I want is for COVID-19 to end. and to be able to see and hug my parents again, more tightly than they ever did.

If you ever had a bad motorcycle accident, what advice would you give to others?

I’ve had many close calls, and three accidents that could have been much worse if I was unlucky/less skilled. Here’s my advice, in (my) order of importance:

  1. Do not overestimate your abilities. Start with the assumption that you’re absolutely incompetent, and work your way up from there. But do make sure you’re working on “working your way up”.
  2. Do not ride when you are not at your mental best. Angry/tired/depressed/even overly happy! Anything that takes your mind off the road is a risk you take.
  3. Do not overestimate your motorcycle’s abilities - especially when it comes to emergency braking/steering in adverse conditions.
  4. Do not make assumptions about other road users. This is tricky in the UK, where most people do follow rules but are distracted/bored/inattentive instead, but having done most of my riding in India, where following the rules is a joke (most road users have never even heard the rules once in their life, and most truckers rely on alcohol to keep themselves awake on overnight long haul drives!) it’s basically what kept me alive.
  5. Take every close call as a lesson. Take every accident as an even bigger lesson. Most close calls are a result of at least one of the 4 above. Most accidents, at least two of the 4 above. Dissect each incident, by yourself, with trusted riding buddies, on quora. Internalize it. Make sure it never happens again. And thank your stars you lived to see another day.
  6. All the gear all the time. Motorcycle safety gear saves lives, reduces pain, and really is not uncomfortable/inconvienient/expensive when you get the right gear. All of my accidents where I sustained physical injury have been where I was not fully geared up, and where gear would have reduced my injury, and were on extremely short rides (within 1km of my destination!)
(posted this on Quora, but thought it was too valuable to leave off my blog :D)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

phone free

I'm preparing to go phone-free. I'm already down to using my phone for about 10 minutes daily, and my phone's battery life is down to about 20 minutes on a full charge.

I could theoretically purchase a new phone, but why? I don't even use my phone much any more. Yes, I know, it's because I'm working from home, and basically at home 99% of the time, and I might change my mind and buy a phone once we're back to moving around again. Who knows?

I'll still have my mobile phone number for calls and texts (unfortunately, my landline is only used by cold-calling scammers), but I am planning to not use my phone for anything else that can't be done without it.

So:

No more Whatsapp (oh yeah!)

No more Instagram (yeah, why not?)

No more Signal (sorry, all of you who just switched. Telegram is better because it doesn't exclusively run on a phone)

Possibly no more Google maps (we did fine without it for decades, no?)

No more photos of my food (let's be honest, how many of you cared?)

I'll probably blog more. Probably.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

the ice-cream fine

 i was riding through the outskits of navi mumbai, the bit where the urban sprawl starts giving way to semi-rural areas. i was riding alongside Apurva (or Unitechy as I'd usually call her), and we were "kinda" racing. it wasn't an all-out race (I was on Carly, she on her scooter :D) but we were trying to out-maoneuvre each other and get to a certain location quicker.

We came to an intersection where I decided to take a right turn, off the highway and through this village. Apurva continued straight on.

The narrow road (barely broad enough for two cars) through the village was lined with houses on either side, and quickly turned steeply uphill. I revved Carly with all my might, but she kept losing speed. As the slope steepened and the engine struggled more, my point of view began to change, forward and downward, until I could see from barely inches over the road. As the scenery rushed past me, the landscape changed abruptly. I was no longer racing uphill along a house-lined road, but through a flat marketplace. the raod was even narrower now (barely broad enough for a car to squeeze through between the stalls, if there were no people). The stalls weren't very densely packed though, and at one point they seemed to end. Instead, on both sides of the narrow road, there were white sheets of cloth hanging down on to the road. It was hard to tell if the sheets were hanging from stalls or some sort of structure, or off the heads of people - they almost had the appearance of flowing robes, uninterrupted from head till the floor. They were longer than required, and partly covered the road I was riding on.

I was conscious that I was riding way too fast for the conditions (despite having lost a significant amount of speed on the way up, that I somehow did not regain when the ground flattened). In fact, the sensory feeling was not so much riding as floating very close to the ground, moving at a good speed, with these robes stretching out across enough of the road to almost meet in the centre.

As I thought about slowing down, I heard a shout: "STOP! What are you doing here?"

I realized I must have broken some rule - was I going too fast? or was it some sort of pedestrian area?

As I stopped and dismounted, the surreal cloth-lined marketplace turned more normal, with stalls on either side, and my point of view shifted back to something more normal as well. I turned around to see a uniformed policeman, with another man in plainclothes.

I apologized for whatever rule I may have broken (I did not ask what rule it was), and explained that I was new to the area and was trying to avoid the traffic on the highway which was a few km away.

He said that's fine, but I would have to pay the fine any way.

The fine was I had to buy him and his associate an ice-cream.

I thought this was weird, but sure enough, the road had a stall right in the middle of it, right where we were (how did I not see it earlier? If I was riding fast I wouldn't have been able to avoid a very serious collision!). The road when around the stall and continued straight behind it, but seemed to branch off into very narrow passages between unkempt houses (almost like a shanty). So it was pretty much a dead end.

Without giving it much thought, I agreed to buy the ice-cream (for them and myself). They picked the cones: dark chocolate covered cones (covered on the outside and inside). I'm not sure how those cones were designed, but they would probably have been quite messy to hold as the chocolate covering ran all over the surface, with no uncovered surface to hold.

After they placed their orders, the lady at the counter turned to me. I was trying to pick my flavour of chocolate. There were two options: dark chocolate and chocolate with salted caramel. I was curious about the texture of both the varieties, so she let me hold the scoop and tease both the tubs pf ice cream to decide. I prefered the texture of the dark chocolate, as the salted caramel formed stretchy strands between the second variety of chocolate. While I was trying to decide, I noticed the lady at the counter was unlike the other peole around: while she spoke to the rest of the staff in fluent Marathi, she spoke to me in perfect English, without a trace of the accent most native Marathi speakers carry over to their English. She was also dressed very smartly - almost fancily, with a bit of make-up on too. Her appearance probably suited someone headed to a semi-formal function: traditional but not too elaborate. In contrast, her staff were dressed and looked like the villagers in all the other stalls in what was quite a busy market.

I made my choice, and she served the cone with the ice cream scoop in it, flat in a plastic tub. It was covered with a layer of chocolate sauce, and was to be eaten with a spoon. I now understood why the cone was completely covered with chocolate. I dug into my ice-cream, almost oblivious to the fact that the policeman and his plainclothes associate had walked away with their ice-creams. As I ate my ice-cream, I realized that if I ate a bit of cone with the ice-cream, there would be more cone than ice-cream.

About halfway through the ice-cream, I asked if I could get another scoop in the same tub to eat with the rest of the cone.

The lady responded that the cone comes with two scoops, but she didn't serve them together as they wouldn't fit well in the cone.

She directed one of the staff to give me another scoop.

As I walked back to the counter, I decided to pick the ice-cream with salted caramel for my second scoop.

I asked the man now at the counter if I could take the scoop out myself. I wanted to try to serve myself more of the caramel than the chocolate ice-cream, and I tried to scoop with a swirling motion. Before I laid the second scoop in the tub, I aranged the remains of my first scoop and the half cone still left. I then placed the tub at a point next to the counter where I could have all the available flavours in the background, and proceeded to click a photo using my phone. Instead of clicking a photo with the usual dimensions and cropping it for instagram, I swotched my phone to take photos in 1:1 and composed it carefully so I wouldn't need to crop it later.

As I put my phone away, I thought to myself that this was probably one of the better ice-creams I've ever had - this ice-cream fine had turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

And that's when I woke up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

20/20

 2020 was a strange year. started on a rather nice note - a ride across the UK, and then a week with Nickolai and Damian, with a few evenings out with other friends.

Back to Belfast, and we were already planning our next vacation: a trip to the Shetland isles for "Up Helly Aa", which is as far away from home I've ridden Vicki (our Honda ST1100) so far.

Back home, and we were already planning our next vacations: Amsterdam in April. Ameland in August (just realized they're all with A!). And to get a visa for both of them, Edinburgh in March.

Attended my first ever hackathon. Was a really energizing experience!

Obviously, Edinburgh in March was the only trip that actually happened.

One week later, we were working from home, and literally going crazy.

Cabin fever. Reading (books, Kindle, online). Streaming movies. Streaming music. Cooking. Eating. Drinking. A bit of blogging too.

At some point, we decided (or rather, realized) we were going overboard with the food, and our bodies and the bathroom scales were showing it.

Thus began the first notable achievement of 2020: our first "reset" diet. It worked for a couple of months. Our friends were surprised at the changes that were visible even in our photos. We enjoyed our new diet as well. We thought it was good enough to last for life.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.

By October, we were slipping up with regularity.

By November, I knew we had to "reset" again.

On Jan 1 2021 we were probably at the same state physically as we were on Jan 1 2020 - but with the experience to prove that it could be done quite easily.

That wasn't the only achievement of the year, of course.

I got back on board with Android development. Dabbled a bit with a few other programming languages.

Signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

A few day trips, which picked up towards the end of the year, when we realized COVID-19 isn't going anywhere soon, and we're going to have to make the best of the free time we have instead of planning vaactions.

A bit of hiking, which again picked up towards the end of the year.

A lot of video calls.

A lot of using grocery shopping as an excuse to get out of these four walls.

A lot of chat as a substitute for human contact.

A lot of mindless scrolling.

ONE lockdown vacation to Galway, when it actually seemed like Ireland and the UK were past COVID-19.

Lots of conversations with Shruti.

Lots of things to look forward to for 2021.

And above everything else, the realization that all assumptions about the future are pointless.

learning to sail: day 2

after a lot of action and information on day 1 of the sailing course, we had a good night's sleep (my second ever night on a boat - the ...