Late Spring Snow

Great.  Just as the weather was starting to warm up (it was 10C yesterday), the very last of the snow disappear from the town, and hopes of summer, barbecues, and beaches to form in everyone’s mind, we wake up to this:

A late blizzard, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk 

A few inches have fallen in the night, bourne on a strong northerly wind, and shows no sign of letting up.  So the flip-flops, flowery shorts, and beach towels are shoved once more to the bottom of the wardrobe, and I’m headed for that warm, dark region between the duvet and the mattress.

Local Peculiarities

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, who is working on one of the major oil and gas projects on the island.  One of his Russian employees was recently rushed to hospital for a stomach pump after he’d drunk a quantity of diesel.  His excuse?

“I thought it was petrol.”

Only in Russia.

The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling

I’ve always liked Rudyard Kipling’s poetry, ever since I read The Way Through The Woods in English literature classes when I was about 15.  If still remains my favourite poem from any poet for its ability to express the values which are essential to success in many areas of life in a way which reads beautifully. 

I particularly like his Barrack Room Ballads, especially the way in which they are evidently very old fashioned, but still make a powerful point relevant to the modern world.  Who could plausibly claim that modern day Tommy is treated much differently to Kipling’s creation?  And with the British army back in Afghanistan well over a century after Kipling wrote the Young British Soldier, his words seem rather ominous in today’s context:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

I’m sure many people before have commented on the modern-day relevancy of these two Barrack Room Ballads, and I’m hardly saying anything new in doing so myself.  But maybe I am the first to say that another poem in the collection, The Ladies, is strangely relevant to workers in the oil industry.  Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to post a rather cheerful and amusing poem which probably would not find a publisher were it written today.

I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it;
  I’ve rouged an’ I’ve ranged in my time;
I’ve ‘ad my pickin’ o’ sweethearts,
  An’ four o’ the lot was prime.
One was an ‘arf-caste widow,
  One was a woman at Prome,
One was the wife of a jemadar-sais
  An’ one is a girl at ‘ome.

Now I aren’t no ‘and with the ladies,
  For, takin’ ’em all along,
You never can say till you’ve tried ’em,
  An’ then you are like to be wrong.
There’s times when you’ll think that you mightn’t,
  There’s times when you’ll know that you might;
But the things you will learn from the Yellow an’ Brown,
  They’ll ‘elp you a lot with the White!

I was a young un at ‘Oogli,
  Shy as a girl to begin;
Aggie de Castrer she made me,
  An’ Aggie was clever as sin;
Older than me, but my first un —
  More like a mother she were —
Showed me the way to promotion an’ pay,
  An’ I learned about women from ‘er!

Then I was ordered to Burma,
  Actin’ in charge o’ Bazar,
An’ I got me a tiddy live ‘eathen
  Through buyin’ supplies off ‘er pa.
Funny an’ yellow an’ faithful —
  Doll in a teacup she were —
But we lived on the square, like a true-married pair,
  An’ I learned about women from ‘er!

Then we was shifted to Neemuch
  (Or I might ha’ been keepin’ ‘er now),
An’ I took with a shiny she-devil,
  The wife of a nigger at Mhow;
‘Taught me the gipsy-folks’ bolee;
  Kind o’ volcano she were,
For she knifed me one night ’cause I wished she was white,
  And I learned about women from ‘er!

Then I come ‘ome in a trooper,
  ‘Long of a kid o’ sixteen —
‘Girl from a convent at Meerut,
   The straightest I ever ‘ave seen.
Love at first sight was ‘er trouble,
  She didn’t know what it were;
An’ I wouldn’t do such, ’cause I liked ‘er too much,
  But — I learned about women from ‘er!

I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it,
  An’ now I must pay for my fun,
For the more you ‘ave known o’ the others
  The less will you settle to one;
An’ the end of it’s sittin’ and thinking’,
  An’ dreamin’ Hell-fires to see;
So be warned by my lot (which I know you will not),
  An’ learn about women from me!

What did the Colonel’s Lady think?
  Nobody never knew.
Somebody asked the Sergeant’s Wife,
  An’ she told ’em true!
When you get to a man in the case,
  They’re like as a row of pins —
For the Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady
  Are sisters under their skins!

Into Thin Air

Yesterday, three friends and I attempted to walk up the mountain to the East of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk called Chekov’s Peak, which is the second highest peak in the vicinity of the town, and the highest which can be seen from the town centre.  At 1,050m (3,450ft) it isn’t exactly the Kanchenjunga, but walking up from the town at sea level takes about 3-4 hours and is pretty hard going, especially if you are unused to such exertions.

Below are some pictures from the day.

The Expedition Team 

The expedition team.

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The Resurrection of the Long Distance Runner

I don’t know if any of my current readers are left from the days when I first started blogging in the spring of 2003, a few months before I left the UK for good.  Around that time I was into long distance running in a fairly serious way, taking part in 10km races every weekend that I could, and running during my lunch hour every other day.  After a couple of months of this I “got fit”, or at least by my standards I did.  By the standards of some people I was running with in the races, I might as well have had one lung and a cancerous heart.  But I was probably as fit then as I’d ever been, and I recall a fantastic feeling once or twice when running up and down hills in the Peak District with a Royal Marine buddy of mine, mile after mile for several hours, knowing that I could get anywhere within a six mile radius without any trouble or any help from anyone or anything save my running trainers, t-shirt, and skimpy shorts.

Sadly, that June I left to work in Oman, followed immediately by Abu Dhabi and Kuwait where the temperatures made running impossible.  After a month I’d lost most of my fitness, and after two I was right back where I started.  I was bitterly disappointed, and try as I might to periodically do some running on a treadmill or along the scorching streets, I never kept it up for more than a week or so.  Motivation to run was in short supply in the Middle East, because even in the winter months when running was perfectly possible, you knew you’d have an eight month period where you’d have to stop and it’d all be for nothing, so what was the point?  Besides, running along dead flat pavements amongst rivers of traffic is not much fun.  In the UK, what motivated me was being able to run against a backdrop of spectacular scenery, and the knowledge that there was a race a week away in which you stood a good chance of beating your last time and “winning” a t-shirt, mug, or small medal (I generally only used to enter races where you got something at the end).  I remember in the Middle East that I really missed all of this, one of the few things I missed about the UK (along with Gregg’s Bakeries).

Then in September last year I arrived in Sakhalin, to find that this place is made specifically for long-distance runners.  There are miles upon miles of dirt tracks running through forests and over hills all around the city, not to mention the large public park with its running track.  The weather in the autumn was perfect for running, glorious sunshine a lot of the time but still very cool.  I was sorely tempted to go for a run or two when I first arrived, but didn’t for two reasons: I knew I would have to stop for the winter months, and my running kit was still in the ship on the way over here.  By the time it arrived, there were several feet of snow on the ground.  But now the snow is melting fast, and spring is in the air, so today I donned my Ronhill Tracksters and Helly Hansen thermal top and, looking like a complete twit, went for a run.

Memories came back, with a vengeance.  A burning chest, lungs slowly filling with liquid.  A sharp pain in the v-of the stomach, another in the kidneys.  A feeling of sickness in the lower stomach, with an ache developing in the shoulders.  The crooks of the elbows stiffening up, thick spittle running from the corner of the mouth.  Then, when I got home, the burning up of my head, the stiffening of the calves, the pain in my right hip, and the inevitable thumping headache I always used to get.  I ran for no more than 25 minutes, all on the flat.  I am seriously unfit.

But, I have done the first run, and I know what now needs to be done.  Motivation comes in the form that I really miss how I used to feel when I was fit; summer and autumn ought to be perfect for running (large, biting, insects notwithstanding); the fitness will be extremely useful for hillwalking (of which I plan to do a lot); I am likely to find one or two others to run with on a regular basis (which always helps); and when the winter comes I am told there is a wonderful sport called cross-country skiing which is exceptionally hard work and makes you fit as a fiddle in no time.  I might also clamber back into a boxing ring at some point, like last time, just for fun.

One thing is unavoidable though: before I get to a summer of enjoyable running, I must first get through a very painful spring.  Spring 2003 seems an awfully long time ago.