Travel Tips

Climbing philosophy, It does not have to be fun to be fun


I have just been researching future climbs on the Jagged Globe website and stumbled upon the climbing philosophy quote by mountaineer Andy Owen. The quote reminded me of a conversation I had with my mate Mal last October.

Two days before this conversation I crawled – almost in tears – over the 5150 meter high Larkya La pass in snowy, cold conditions. I was suffering rather explosive gastroenteritis, on the way I had a weird conversation with a German chap. He spotted me hiding behind a rock as every drop of liquid was purged from my digestive tract post haste, watching with interest for a while he said;

“Are you OK there?”

I looked up and saw only a silhouette, I forgot to mention that we faced a big day and started walking at around five in the morning.

“Yeah mate, I’ll be OK”

What I really wanted to say was;

“Fucks sake, what does it look like you fucking fool!”

Surprisingly though, throughout the crawl over the pass I never once wished myself out of this experience, sickness is just a natural part of trekking in Nepal, especially for idiots who accept the grubby nailed farmer’s offer to, “Come in for a cup of milk tea”. This is a classic example of type two fun, but I am getting ahead of myself…

I am getting to the conversation with Mal, promise! …two days later I was all but recovered and feeling rather proud of surviving this ordeal. The mood of the expedition had slightly changed, we were on an eight day trek back to civilisation after a very exciting climb, everyone was starting to get slightly reflective, borderline laconic. The adrenaline had all burnt off and we were winding down.

While wandering past the small township of Goa, through fields of wild marijuana, Mal turned to me. Wisdom gained from his years of slogging up icy mountains was showing in his eyes as he said;

“Do you know about the four types of fun Ben?”

“What’s that?”

“The four types of fun, never heard of them bro?”

“No idea mate, something to do with how hard you work to have the fun?”

“Well…”

We strolled along the winding valley and Mal explained his theory to me.

“Well Ben, type one fun is fun at the time and fun afterwards”

A classic example of type one fun is eating a ripe strawberry or dancing in your boxer shorts.

I once lived with a bloke called Simon Turk. Simon and I are great mates and we used to take great delight playing cruel jokes on each other. One time as I walked between the shower and my room with only a towel around my waist I made Simon look up from his breakfast with a cheery “Good morning”

Just as he looked up I dropped the towel, stark naked.

Simon covered his eyes but quickly did a shocked double take. I had done a ‘testie tuck’ or ‘manjina’ Simon’s expression at my apparent Barbie’s Ken-like lack of genitalia had me in fits of mirth, however, Simon took a few hours to fully appreciate this piece of comic genius.

This whole experience for me was definitely type one fun. Fun then and fun afterwards but for Simon it was probably closer to type two…

“Type two fun is not fun at the time but fun shortly afterwards”

Type two fun, like my crawl over the pass involves a relatively quick bounce back. Like rock climbing for the first time, it is certainly not fun as you desperately claw at grips while not trusting the rope to catch you. As soon as feet reach terra-firma again you realise that it actually was fun and want to go again. The more you partake in type two activities the more they resemble type one. Example: I have a terrible fear of public speaking but by actively seeking opportunities to do just this I have managed to make it morph into type one, however,

“Type three fun is not fun at the time but after months, sometimes years, you realise that it truly was fun and begin to consider doing it again”

Type three fun is the most rewarding. It generally means that you have launched yourself completely out of that cable TV watching comfort zone and have seen or done things which you never dreamt possible, or you have just done something plain stupid. Climbing really big mountains or running marathons are both type three activities. Also doing stuff which is just plain stupid…

In April 2011 got chatting to a short-ish, muscly Brazilian chap about his big surfboard bag while waiting to drop my bags off at the Santiago airport.

“Hey mate, how many boards you got stuffed in there?”

“Only two, and all of my clothes for the month”

“You off to Sydney as well?”

“Yeah, to see my sister, then to Bali for some surfing”

“Nice, Bali’s good hear”

“World class, my name’s Ian”

“Ben”

We dropped off our bags and wandered the international airport aimlessly, our journey linked by a six hour layover.

“Hey Ian, did you know you can pay fifteen dollars Australian and hang out in the VIP lounge?

“Really, I am keen”

“Well, free grog, food and wi-fi, let’s do it”

Five and a half hours later we staggered out of the VIP lounge reeking of whiskey to find our gate, we had drunk the best part of a bottle of whiskey and I was ready to collapse in my seat and sleep the flight away. Boarding passed in a blur. Ian swapped seats to be beside me. He relieved a grateful young redheaded girl originally seated by my side from being stuck next to this bearded, whiskey-smelling man who had been in transit for two days (My transit went from Marseille France to Rio to Sao Paolo to Santiago, Sydney then home. A quirk of my flight bookings it was cheaper to go this way than to sneak around the back). Ian all but passed out by my side, not before talking loudly right throughout the safety speech. I stared at the bloody seatbelt sign intently as we took off and made a mad dash for the toilet as it went out.  Waking briefly in New Zealand for our short fuel stop I then slept all the way to Sydney. Finally on home turf after ten months exploring I felt refreshed and in sync with the time zone change, if a bit dehydrated. Ian, however, was in a bad way. Once relieved of the plane he ran to a toilet and relieved his stomach of all its contents. I never did see Ian again, he was a lovely chap though and we occasionally send each the emails and I have a standing invite to visit Ian in Brazil, despite his suffering. I think Ian would agree that this experience was type three fun for him, it was more a type two for me.

“Type four fun is not fun at the time, never fun afterwards”

Anchors failing, paraglider wings collapsing, ending up in a wheelchair, avalanches, bashing your thumb repeatedly with a hammer and so forth. Nothing more to say, I have never experienced this type of fun, thankfully.

For me, fun it is most rewarding when a type is reduced; when something that absolutely terrifies me the first time is not so bad the second time. Personally, fun is best when it pushes me completely out of my comfort zone. This is what drives some people to fly further, climb higher and do what others may consider stupid or irresponsible.

Having said that though, if the fun-type of an activity reduces to the point of complacency many type two activities can quickly become type four. Which is best avoided.

Having shared all this philosophy, however, sometimes it is nice to just eat a juicy, ripe strawberry while dancing in your boxer shorts.

Manaslu expedition – lessons learnt

grey Manaslu expedition   lessons learntI had many important lessons when on my Manaslu expedition with Mal in October last year, not least of which are the four golden rules of good mountain communication:

1 Thou will not assume knowledge in others.

“The sat phone does not work on the hill babe, but we’ll be right”

2 Thou will always consider the other person on line.

“I’m in some tricky terrain man”

“Can you get back up to camp 2?”

“I’ll try” *Radio silence, Mal exhausted but starts preparing for a rescue*

3 Your voice changes at altitude.

“Is thith Yeh-the?”

“Yes, who is this? What has happened”

“Is thith Yeh-the…”

4 Thou will never assume the worst.

“Melanie, I am in Kathmandu, call me soon”

grey Manaslu expedition   lessons learntIn October last year I climbed a mountain called Manaslu in the Gorkha region of Nepal. Manaslu is 8162 meters high and quite remote, for me it was an incredible adventure and the fulfillment of a life long dream. I learnt a lot about what to (and what not to) tell loved ones before, during and after such a climb. I climbed with Mal Haskins who is a serial adventurer, world class paragliding pilot, professional mountaineer and (I am proud to say) a good mate. My experience is embryonic compared to Mal. Mal has had his head firmly in the clouds for years since he shelved a promising career as an electrical engineer with the Australian armed forces to, as he says; “Get into the hills Bro” He has guided in Nepal numerous times-most notably on Lhotse which is an imposing 8000 meter high lump of ice and rock very near Mt Everest. Mal has lead climbing trips in Peru and is constantly dragging paid clients around his now native New Zealand. For Mal a climb of New Zealand’s Mt Cook is just a standard day at the office. Me? Well, I have survived a ten day mountaineering course in New Zealand, climbed to just over 6000 meters in Nepal and turned back just below the summit of Cotopaxi in Ecuador due to bad snow pack conditions. Embryonic.

You are wondering, no doubt, what was I thinking when I signed up to tackle this intimidating beast with a small team of four climbers. Put simply, I love being on mountains, even without the plan of getting to that final pointy bit, I love prancing around in crampons, swinging off ropes and looking at the view from high places. Like many people I find peace in the hills. In big hills I find inner peace flavored with awe and wonderment. My initial goal was to climb to a camp at 7450 meters and to film Mal flying past me. On this mission Mal was planning to not only summit but to also launch from the top with a speed wing and skis. Speedflying is a sport where people use a small version of a paragliding wing and skis to zoom down mountains occasionally kissing their slopes with skis while reaching speeds of up to 120 kilometers an hour. In the thin air above 8000 meters Mal was expecting to go much, much faster than this and no one has attempted such a feat. On the climb I felt strong, conditions were not right for Mal to fly and he didn’t need a cameraman so I pushed on to the top. I would have been really happy to reach my initial goal of 7450 meters so when I found myself enjoying half an hour at the pointy bit gasping for air and snapping self portraits I was beyond ecstatic.

As little as I knew, my girlfriend and emergency contact Jette knew even less. While Mal and I were crunching onwards to the top Jette was frantically chewing her nails back in her native Denmark.

‘Thou will not assume knowledge in others’

When I sent Jette an email casually mentioning that the phone did not work on the hill I assumed that she would figure we had regular scheduled radio contact with base camp (base did have contact with the outside world should we need to order an emergency KFC bucket or even rescue helicopter). However, Jette thought that Mal and I were bumbling about on an 8000 meter high hill without any communications at all, this caused her significant angst.

The second communication law involves use of radios. Mal and I reached camp three fairly late in the afternoon, we were extremely tired after four big summit days, however I decided to continue down to camp two with the understanding that Pemba was planning to follow shortly with a load. I happily set off in the afternoon light and Mal crawled into his tent, comforted that I would soon be in good company. However, Pemba changed his mind and instead of descending with gear he went to bed at camp three, completely exhausted he didn’t tell anyone. This would have only meant a lonely night for me at the abandoned camp two…had I not got off trail. As the sun set I veered too far to the left and what started as ankle deep and supportive snow became soft, thigh deep snow. Each time I broke the thin, icy crust I would lunge, pull myself up, roll onto my belly and stand to take a few more steps. Every few steps the crust gave way and I fell back into thigh deep snow. Now, every time the crust broke and I broke through I was convinced that I would fall into a deep crevasse. After four days going up and one down I was understandably exhausted and very, very scared.

I sat in the snow watching a truly spectacular sunset paint nearby peaks while trying for about half an hour to get Mal, or anyone, on the radio without success. I gave up and prepared for a very lonely and cold night out in the elements alone. Survival is not guaranteed when outside overnight on big hills, even inside our highest camp with four people crammed into one tent we recorded minus twenty-eight degrees. Finally Mal, who unknown to me, had been trying to follow my progress visually without success, turned on the radio and we had a crackly conversation:

“Ben, you there? Do you copy Ben?”

“Mal, when is Phemba coming down? I’m a bit off the track and in some pretty deep snow…”

“Um …. it appears that Phemba is not coming down tonight bro … Can you manage your way back to the track and come back up?”

“%^**….$%^^% – I’ll try man….”

I turned off my radio to save batteries and backtracked, comforted that Mal was now aware of my predicament.

‘Thou will always consider the other person on line’

Mal grew increasingly concerned at my lack of radio contact and decided to send Sidi Mama (our other climbing sherpa) down to get me. In my own little world of pain I did not consider Mal and had not even turned on my headlight in the dusk light. I did not have the presence of mind to realize that a bright light on my head may help both Mal and Sidi to find me. Finally back on the trail I was met by Sidi who aided a very exhausted (emotionally and physically) me down towards camp two.

When Sidi reached me I still had not thought to turn on my headlight or radio and all that Mal could see was a lone headlight (which he knew was Sidi’s) going down to camp two. With the limited knowledge available to him Mal grew concerned that I had fallen into a deep crevasse and was in real trouble so he started quickly preparing his gear for a rescue. Finally down at camp two Sidi thought to radio Mal;

“Mal, this is Sidi – Ben and I are now are C2″

“Whew, thank F#$K, goodnight”

Sidi and I had a very cold, hungry night under a single sleeping bag at camp two. I was more than happy to only be a bit cold but in good company. When Mal came down to the following day he spotted the tracks from my little adventure and commented on how close to the trail I was. This brought home just how easy it is to get confused and scared when at altitude and beyond tired. Next time I’ll just stay at camp and drink a cup of tea. Lesson learnt.

Mal’s finance Sophie was stationed at bast camp where she radioed us weather reports and updated the expedition website (www.speedfly8000.com) with information, she also kindly offered to send Mum, Dad and Jette personal emails of our progress to keep everyone in the loop. During our descent Sophie was kept very busy retrieving useful weather information for us and with monitoring progress so for the two days of our descent she did not have a chance to contact the outside world with an update.

When I did arrive at base camp and despite telling her I would only ever email, the first thing I wanted to do was to call my normally unflappable girlfriend. At the time of my call she had not had any news for two sleepless nights and was at a conference, it is kind of ironic that the conference was about her employer’s safety protocols. Jette sat next to a mountain climber who spent the entire morning gleefully telling her countless stories of missions gone wrong on descent and with ensuring she was fully conversant with the fact that descent is the most dangerous part of a climb. Right before she had to do a role play about the dangers of staplers her phone rang and displayed “Manaslu Emergency Phone” Understandably concerned Jette grabbed her phone and ran into the hallway. This is where I managed to unwittingly upset her further. ‘Your voice changes at altitude’

Standing beside my tent at base camp I had bad reception and my voice was different due to exhaustion, altitude and emotion. Mostly my voice was unrecognizable due to a recalcitrant tongue. Numerous blood noses caused by the thin, very dry air had blocked my nose and forced me to mouth breath while climbing. With UV’s flooding in my mouth my tongue had become sunburnt and was swollen, red and sore. I sounded like a patient after root canal surgery. She did not recognize the voice that repeatedly asked;

“Is this Jette?”

I could not recognize the voice squeaking

“Who is this?”. Finally I managed to convince Jette that it was really me calling with good news of a successful climb. Lesson learnt.

The last communication lesson was not a first hand one. My sister Mel was relying on both our expedition website and on Mum for news. She had noted no updates for a few days during our ascent and had emailed Mum asking for news of her little brother. A day after sending this email Mel received the following message;

“I am at Kathmandu, call me now”

Mel immediately assumed the worst, picturing Mum in Kathmandu weeping over my corpse she found a teaching aide and left her classroom quickly to contact Mum. When Mum picked up she asked Mel,

“What size is your son wearing these days?”

“Why are you in Kathmandu? What has happened! Is Ben OK?”

“What, Yeah, I am just buying your kids some clothes, what size does Ameer take now?”

“Oh…thank F#$K, Kathmandu, the clothing shop, yeah?”

“Yeah, where else?”

‘Thou will never assume the worst’

My travel Angel

I maintain composure despite glimpsing desperation; a man, wearing his polished blue “Safety officer’’ badge, dashing past. There is a caustic smell creeping down the aisle but I am not concerned. Despite the inherent danger of fires on planes I feel safe, smugly cocooned in the knowledge that I have my own personal travel angel. This is a fact. His name is Gustav; I do not know why, it just is. Gustav works tirelessly behind the scenes to try to smooth my path and keep me from serious trouble, sometimes in a comically roundabout way.  He no doubt has a very good reason for steering me onto this seemingly doomed, Air France flight, AF442 from Paris to Rio on March 30, 20111

Every traveler has a personal travel angel even if they don’t properly realise it. Some people thank a higher power, some a system of give and take, some merely cite good fortune. I like to imagine Gustav as a thin man wearing brown slacks and thickly rimmed reading glasses circa 1960, he is calm and collected like a celestial accountant. He is without voice and toils quietly, beyond sight, without health benefits or pay. Whatever name or belief is attributed to this authority, every traveler can relate at least one story when they were gently steered out of trouble.

When I liquidated my life and set out to explore I did not believe in angels, but as anyone will tell you, travel can, and will broaden horizons. 

Earlier that year in November I missed a bus. Watching it pull out of the station without me I blinked away a cloud of belched diesel and cursed Gustav expansively. Slinging my red backpack over my shoulders I searched for another bus. A two hour wait in a stifling, chaotic depot complete with underhanded staff ensued. By slipping a sneaky ‘gift’ to an attendant I was first to board the next bus, nursing my faithful and now very dusty red companion I eagerly anticipated the adventure to come. I had always dreamt of trekking in the Andes alone.

In front of me a contemplative chicken on a lap strained its rubber neck and quietly studied my features. To my right an elderly chap wearing traditional clothing absently stared through a grimy window. We gave up on conversation before properly starting, having reached “where are you from?” my vocabulary dried up like the country’s healthcare budget. Our bus plunged deep into a lush valley while the Ecuadorian Andes poked through clouds, distantly following our progress.

My knees were bent far closer to my chest than they were designed, my backpack was taking up what little leg room the hard seat afforded. I abandoned my book and stared back at the mountains wondering if Gustav had forsaken me. The chicken vocalised my mood with a resigned “squwaaark” “What will be will be”. At one isolated stop I watched an arthritically bent figure fight his way up the stairs. He accepted with a smile when I stood with cracking knees and relinquished my seat.

A small green tinged child vomited all over my friend’s Sunday best just as he settled. The sickly boy extensively decorated the floor where my pack had sat seconds ago. My eyes met with the elderly chap as he toiled with crumpled newspaper and we chuckled. Some ironies do not require a common language. “Gustav is still here”. Our bus rumbled and bounced; squeaking and fuming further away from Westernisation we penetrated deep into the heart of Ecuador. The air, now tasted not smelt, held a zesty whiff of vomit lurking beneath body odour and diesel.

While gingerly negotiating a windy pass our driver stomped on the brakes and caused them to squeal in surprise. Peering through my window I discovered what triggered this stop. Despite the scratches, dents and greenery plastered across its battered red side, it looked like the one which left before us. Sitting mutely on its side like a discarded toy, was the bus which had abandoned me earlier. It was missing a roof. A drunken driver misjudged a corner and sent the bus hurtling over this mountainous pass. An extended Friday night binge claimed twenty lives that day, including the driver’s. I mentally apologised to Gustav for doubting him as my bus rolled sombrely on.

Weeks later I was to discover that travel angels do not work alone. I was labouring through an icy blue wonderland with my friend Vincent. Crampons in crunchy snow and impermeable pants singing a tired requiem. Vincent is an amiable Dutch medical student I befriended at my Spanish School. He had asked me with religious fervour to show him the mountains so we could share His playground.

We had turned back while climbing Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador’s second highest peak2, as snow conditions signalled avalanche. With aching bones we toiled to disembark the mountain, moving as quickly as fatigue allowed. Circling down the mountain we watched awestruck as the rising sun poured hazy violet over a new day. The cool blue which coloured our world for the last ten hours slowly warmed to pink. Behind me Vincent stopped babbling through his balaclava abruptly as the rope which connected our fates snapped taut. I looked back to see his slender frame cut in half. A snow bridge had rudely collapsed, plunging him unceremoniously and waist deep into a crevasse. Vincent cried out when I turned to run away. Forgetting the rope attached to his harness he thought I was abandoning ship. Throwing my weight onto the rope I pulled until our connection extracted my friend from a snowy grave. My Dutch friend slowly emerged, clawing grey faced at the ice like a frightened new born zombie.

Every downhill step calmed my friend but my mind was racing; What if I had chosen a different Spanish School? What if I had decided to go to the beach with the others, leaving Vincent to climb alone? I pictured Gustav silently scheming with a clog wearing angel, pointing out a particular “Learn Spanish” brochure on that rack as I passed; piquing my interest in this climb; tickling memories of rope rescue lessons just before Vincent fell

The safety officer with the polished blue badge finishes his scampering and sits apprehensively for landing. Two jumbo tyres explode on hot tarmac. Re-ticketing and company spiels cost me an extra sixteen hours before I excitedly arrive at my hostel in Rio. 

My titillation fades with the realisation that I have missed the party by eleven years. I go to bed early, a grandfather of the hostel. Drunken revellers return throughout the night, submitting to oblivion under threadbare sheets. 

At 2am I wake to find the dorm full of smoke. Neither extinguisher, fire blankets or lucid helper are at hand. A fire is licking upwards from a wall fan, gaining momentum by feeding on cheap plywood. I dash to rouse the slumbering receptionist who follows me to the fire, wielding a wet towel. I slowly make a connection and grab the wet towel away; electrical fire, no water. A dry duvet quells the flames. Three nearby bodies do not even pause their drunken snoring throughout the excitement. 

With the emergency abated I steal a well deserved beer from the communal fridge and sit, bug eyed on a balcony which faces a twinkling city. 

I sit alone on my hard seat and ponder in the muggy night air. I realise that, no matter how bad a situation may seem, wherever you may find yourself in a journey or the world, you are exactly where you need to be (I also discover that this hostel is infested with mosquitos). There is no point trying to force your will upon a journey, it will set its own course regardless. Maybe the whole point of travel is to show us how little, how insignificant, how utterly powerless we are against forces of chance and mishap. Fourteen months of travel have certainly subdued my inner control freak. Maybe we can all relax and trust our Gustavs a little more.

On behalf of the oblivious people sleeping in my room that night I thank Gustav for delaying my flight. I continue to quietly thank him; for hijacking my ride on that bus and for introducing me to Vincent, amongst countless others. Finishing my now warm beer I resolve to make his job easier by going home.

Even travel angels need a holiday. grey My travel Angel

Wrong side of the road and masturbating chimpanzees!

grey Wrong side of the road and masturbating chimpanzees!

 

 

 

I once read a science fiction book where scientists bred modified chimpanzees smart enough to fly spacecraft. Chimps do not possess human vocal cords and can’t speak, hence communication was an issue. The other problem was that the space monkeys had had their intelligence further boosted with a hefty dose of human hormones. Once in orbit, full of raging hormones and curious about themselves and the world the entire simian crew discovered masturbation and neglected to steer. Keepers watched through closed circuit television as the spacecraft burnt up on impact with the earths atmosphere, the chimps, arms a blur, did not even look up…

I will return to the chimps later on… where did I leave off last time? Sapphire blue skies, rubbish bins, rock climbing, blah, blah…A big difference which I have not yet mentioned is that being in the middle of summer it is light, all the time. The sun rises at around 5am and hangs in the sky until 11:30pm. This is fantastic news for vitamin D production, bad news for sleep patterns. The light definitely has its benefits, often Jette and I will go for a stroll before dinner along the waterfront, returning at 8pm to cook dinner in the sun. Hearing people passing below my window as I drift off to sleep I sometimes think it is grade four summertime again.  Mum made me go to bed early and I would lay in bed awake enviously listening to the cool kids still playing outside.

Speaking of cool kids. The Danish equivalent of grade 12 has just finished their exams and kids have been partying like banshees ever since. In Australia when college finishes most people find a paddock somewhere to stand around a bonfire getting drunk and fighting, or kissing. The Danes celebrate very differently. As each class is let out someone organizes a big cattle truck, army truck or similar to drive the whole class around town. With huge stereo systems blaring the trucks are decorated with banners, streamers and littered with drunken classmates before taking to the streets. It is almost a competition on which class has the loudest, most decorative truck…pimp my truck. The entire class spends what is left of the day and most of the night making surprise visits to proud parents. At their homes they receive beer and toilet breaks before returning to the road to drive around again yelling, dancing and sharing their joy with the world. I lie in bed in the sunlight and wonder if these school leavers realize that soon they will be facing either real jobs or university studies. I reckon that thought would tone the buggers down a bit.

Currently my new city is trying to build a name for itself as the cultural capital of Denmark. To this end Aarhus is currently host to an impressive sculpture by the sea display. Picture a sprawling seafront park with massive oversize sunglasses and randomly placed sculptures dotting the waterfront. Elderly art critics walk around wearing berets and pushing half glasses up their noses as kids run, yelling between adult legs climbing everything with abandon. One of the bigger pieces consists of three double length shipping containers perched on end with a small container containing a bell suspended between them. That is all, the containers just sit there quietly rusting away, the occasional passerby stops to ring the bell before losing interest and moving on. Art, there is no definition. My hairdresser told me that a group of local artists got upset about the sunglasses sculpture saying that it is not art. No one got upset about the upended containers though, being both an eyesore and completely useless they are clearly art.

Oh yeah, I got a haircut recently, two actually…

While walking around the sculptures on Saturday I got thoroughly tired of my long messed up hair blowing into my face and asked Jette if she would give me a trim. This saw us on Saturday night, me sitting in a chair laughing and heckling as Jette nervously circled, snipping at wayward locks. Jette soon found her confidence and gave me a decent shearing. As a hairdresser Jette makes a really good lawyer, it was a great first try though! Following my instructions Jette cut it really short at the front and top and left it long at the back. Business at the front, party at the back equals a home made mullet, or ‘German hair’ as it is known here. I was very excited with my new look but as my front end resembled an old frizzy microphone it needed some tidying up.

On Monday morning first thing I went out and found a hairdresser to tweak my style somewhat. Telling my second hairdresser that I trusted her judgement as long as she left it long at the back I sat down and, with her limited English, we enjoyed a stilted conversation for half an hour. As if programmed to cut all hair the same she finished, leaving me with a typical Danish, short all over, cut.  Not to worry I am determined that the mullet will return! Monday afternoon I faced a massive struggle with writing block so I decided to simply give up. I went to the climbing centre for a workout.

Just getting to the centre was a mission. The first time I went out Jette kindly took me in her Fiat Punto (more about this automotive masterpiece later). Once I started climbing Jette found a seat and patiently waited for me to finish, watching like a patient soccer mum. Yesterday I had to make my own way out. I took Jette’s step through ‘city-girl’ bike with a wicker basket on the front. In the basket were my new, brightly colored climbing shoes with the pointy toes. I set the hilltop hoods on my iPod and left the building. The first few intersections proved a massive challenge. When the light turned green I rode through the intersection and would instinctively turn straight into oncoming traffic, panic, then ride up onto the pavement to regroup before trying again. I made a few bad turns but soon I was making my way up the correct side of the road towards the gym. The Climbing centre is located in a ‘bad’ area of town, revved up cars raced past with music blaring and passengers staring as I pedaled along quietly listening to my music.

Notwithstanding, it was a lovely ride out to the centre on ‘city-girl’, most people smiled as I passed and I could not help grinning about bringing people joy with my ridiculousness.

Unable to communicate, with burning forearms and sweat dripping off me I spent two hours mimicking people around me in the empty dive pool retrofitted with climbing walls. Looking up at observers above I fell limbs akimbo and rubbed my burning forearms while laughing to myself. It must have been a zoo-worthy sight, the lone guy at the climbing centre falling off, laughing at private jokes and not managing to speak with anyone, but it was brilliant fun. Next time I go I will try to act normal as I need to find someone to team with for belaying. Rock climbing is incredibly hard on the forearms, my legs and, well, all over hurt when I finished dragging myself around the obstacles.

The only time I felt a big awkward about my transport was when I finished climbing and asked the duty manager Mikael to let me into the bike shed. I wheeled the city-girl out from amongst a selection of very masculine mountain bikes to catch a poorly stifled laugh from him. Mikael then watched with a bemused expression as the new guy put his pointy shoes into the basket and set off down the wrong side of the street, back erect, earphones in, with a big grin on his face.

I sat on the generous girl-seat and threw myself into a rush of oncoming traffic. As I slowly orbited the roundabout backwards I thought about my communication issues and burning forearms and could not help grinning as I remembered the story of those masturbating space-chimps.

How to speak Danish

So after weeks of intensive linguistic research I have prepared a short lesson for the native English speaker on how to speak Danish without the burden of actual lessons or knowledge (this also works for German, Swiss or any Scandinavian language). My English to Danish rules are as follows:

Step 1)     Add in random K’s and S’s through out the sentence you want to say

Step2)     Drop any ‘e’ at the end of words

Step 3)     Put a line running from lower left to upper right through a few O’s

Step4)    Throw a few non-sensical words in throughout the phrase

Step 5)    Replace ‘C’ with ‘K’

Step 6)    add ‘en’ or ‘ern’ to the end of a few words

Step 7)    Combine ‘a’ and ‘e’ to form ‘æ’, replace a with it

Step 8)    replace ‘er’ with ‘ern’

Step 9)    ‘and’ becomes ‘und’

Step 10)    Lower your chin to your chest and speak upwards towards your palate two         octaves lower than your normal speaking voice

Step 11)    This is the most crucial, drink half a bottle of cheap brandy..

Using these eight simple rules anyone can speak Danish without much effort.

For example using my rules the sentence below:

“Today I walked to the bank to withdraw some money. The weather was cool and temperate becomes:

“Todask I walken tø th bansk tø withdræwen søm savnede monesk. Th wøthern wøs tiden også cøølern und temperæsk”

Sounds good hey? try this one:

“I am from Australia. Where I live everyone has a pet kangaroo, all we eat is prawns cooked on the barbeque. Beer comes from the tap and everyone says ‘bugger‘ or ‘mate’ at the start or end of every conversation”  becomes:

I æm frømsk Australiern. Wheern I livern everyønsk hasern a petsk kangarø und all we eatsk is prawns køøkern on the barbekuesk. Beersk kømes frøm the kommer tap und everyøn trætte says ‘bugger‘ ør ‘mate’ at the startern or end of every kønverskatiønsk, vindmølleparker!

It is also possible to use the rules in reverse to translate back to English, try this one:

‘Aarhus isk a beautikfulern tøwnsk stændsede. I lik it her, ælthøugh the spændt men weærsk their pantsk faren tø highsk for cømførtern.’

How did you go?

I am currently working on a translation of ‘War and Peace‘ while waiting for my university course materials to arrive, should be lucrative…grey How to speak Danish

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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