Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Interview with Edward Evans-Pritchard, anthropologlist of the Nuer

Cambridge arch'n'anthers, other old-school anthropologists, and closet Pete and Dud fans might want to have a look at this recently-rediscovered interview with Edward Evans-Pritchard, the famous anthropologist and author of The Nuer, the seminal work on the Nuer people of the upper Nile.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

2wheels wins a prize for being not very funny!

The poor old folk at the Guardian seem to be scraping the barrel in some desperation this week, to the point where they felt obliged to give me a prize for a this rather under-baked offering.

And my glittering prize is to be.... a copy of Susan Bain's Holyrood: the Inside Story.

Ah well, what goes around, comes around.

(A saying which reminds me, vaguely, of the presumably Yorkshire-ish expression 'you don't get owt for nowt' - which is largely true, unless you are an English batsman.)


Monday, July 25, 2005

Huangpu River Pollution Shock

Traces of di-hydrogen oxide have been found in Shanghai's Huangpu River, local environment officials have admitted, weeks after rumours about the pollution shock first started spreading on the internet.

Although the river is well-known for the cocktail of chemical compounds which flows through it, this is believed to be the first time that di-hydrogen oxide, known to scientists by its chemical formula H20, has been detected since regular testing began in 1994.

A spokesman for the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, who gave his surname as Jiang, said: "This is an isolated occurence. We have identified the source and taken the necessary mesasures. This substance poses no risk to the public, and people should go about their business as usual."

Asked how the substance - which is formed by a chemical reaction between hydrogen (an exlosive gas) and oxygen (which is toxic in high concentrations) - came to be found in the Huangpu, Mr Jiang said that it was not convenient to say. Another Bureau official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the chemical had probably leaked into the river from "another source", but he could not say what that source might have been.

Shanghai health department officials have stressed that there is little likelihood of the contamination finding its way into the city's drinking supply.

However, some local residents were taking no chances last night, saying that they would not trust what comes out of their kitchen taps until tests show that the leak has been completely cleared up.

Mr Guo, a pedestrian crossing assistant from the city's north-eastern Hongkou district, told reporters: "There's a rumour going round our neighbourhood that this di-hydrogen stuff is in fact what we Shanghainese have always called shui [a local word for 'water']. If that's the case, then of course we're worried. The last time we had shui in our taps was back in 1966, and it didn't do us a lot of good then, I can tell you. People went crazy as a result of drinking the stuff. Even high-ranking officials were affected.

Mr Guo, wearing sunglasses, white gloves, a yellow baseball cap, and a buff-coloured shirt, went on to say: "We're just praying that it's a false alarm this time. If it turns out to be true, I'm going to take my family down to stay with relatives in Guangzhou till they get this situation under control. I know for a fact that there is no shui contamination in the Zhu Jiang [Pearl River]."

Shares in Suntory Ltd, the Japanese drinks giant that owns Shanghai's largest brewery, fell almost 5% on the news.

Selling to the Meeedjia - Thor Heyerdal, Edmund Hillary, and The "Story" thing

[extracts from a rant fired off to a film producer who, reasonably enough, wanted to know why I was going]

It's a funny one, this. The "WHY?" question is the one everybody ask - friends, relatives, journalists, and proposal-mauling folk such as your good self.... (I mean that in a positive sense.)

Sometimes I think it's "Why?" in the sense of "I seriously want to know what it is that gets into your head or your heart or your soul and makes you want to do a thing like this".

And sometimes I think it's "Why?" in the sense of "What story can you tell that justifies this expedition in terms of the prevailing social interpretation of worthiness?"

I'll give you my take on this -- you may not like it, but here is what I think.

A lot of expeditions pick a story to hang their ride on, either because they think in advance -- probably rightly -- that it will play better in the mediasphere; or because, belatedly, some journo/producer/PR jock has told them to.

So you get all these "In the footsteps of...", "Retracing the ancient....", "Could Alexander the Great have come this way?", "The sweet and sour trail: eating Chinese from Shanghai to Shoreditch, BY BIKE" type of themed expeditions. (OK, actually I quite like that last idea.)

89.5 % (forgive my rough estimate) of these things are phoney. The participants know it, the intermediaries (journalists/producers etc) know it, and I think the audience knows it too, most of the time. It's pretty obvious, most of the time, that these adventurers don't really give much of a damn about their meeeedjia-friendly theme: they are really doing what they are doing because they want do something out of their skins, to go hard and dirty, to hurt like hell and achieve whatever it may be, climbing Everest or pogo-sticking across Antarctica. If they have to tell everyone that they're pogo-sticking in Shackleton's footsteps in order to get financing or recognition, well, so be it.

How often have you watched or listened to or read about this kind of journey, and you think to yourself: OK, I know the game here: it's a hell of an adventure, it's exciting, I'm hooked, good luck to these guys, bloody-hell-rather-them-than-me (or: cor, I wish I was there), but, really, what has Marco Polo got to do with this? When he came through town I'll bet he didn't have to trot past 15 miles of white-tiled ribbon-development garages and cement factories, and no, I don't suppose he was choking on black smoke from the constant stream of Dong Feng trucks either. Marco Polo was then; now is now.

There are some honourable exceptions of course. Thor Heyerdal and Kon Tiki, that kind of made sense because he had to have some reason for making his rafts out of whatever it was he made them out of, stone-age Polynesian coconut matting or whatever. But even then, you pretty much knew that at bottom those guys were having an incredible adventure, the Polynesian migration (or whatever it was) theory was a pretty neat hook to hang it on, but let's be honest it doesn't really much matter whether the theory was right or wrong, it was a hell of a journey.

>From time to time you get a real expert on ancient Mongolian drainage ditches, and I mean a real expert, someone who lives and breathes ancient Mongolian drainage ditches, someone who knows ancient Mongolian drainage ditches better than the ancient Mongolians did. For him, the 3000 mile camel trek across the desert is almost incidental to the prize at the end of it, to explore a drainage ditch that no-one has ever explored before. His passion for drainage ditches is obvious and he can talk authoritatively about the subject like no-one else can. He hasn't read the books because he wrote all the damn books, for heaven's sake.

But he is a rare bird.

Most "themed" expeditions that find their way into books/newspapers/films don't have this kind of expert. Maybe the leader has read a thin paperback on Afghan tribal dancing before he set off, but we all know why he is really homping over the Hindu Kush.

Because it's there.
For me, Edmund Hillary's "Because It's There" line is one of the most abused quotes in expedition history. Read it the wrong way, and it sounds like a casual, lazy-witty, now-leave-me-alone-you-pesky-little-base-camp-hugging-media-types sort of off-the-cuff remark from a tired guy who just climbed quite a high mountain and wants to lie down for a while. But I think it's not that at all.

To a mountaineer, a mountain is like a blazing beacon, a huge neon-lit challenge in the sky that screams (or whispers, menacingly, or seductively), Come on, climb me, you bastard, if you're good enough. The mountain gets into the mountaineer's soul. It messes up the survival instinct that evolution has done its best to hone, and replaces it with a kind of obsessive-compulsive mania: I must climb that bloody mountain, and honestly I don't really care three hoots if it's the 90th anniversary of Mallory and Irving or even that today is European Anti-Littering Day. I need to climb that thing because it's there, because it is commanding me to climb it, because my soul won't rest until I have climbed it, because that is who I am, that mountain has become me, and I have become it.
I'm being a little presumptuous to put all these word's into Hillary's mouth, I know, but I'd take a bet anyway that he wouldn't disagree. "Because it's there" is the real reason that drives most adventure-expeditioners, even if they feel they have to say something else to please the meeedjia, sponsors, and maybe even their own (misguided) consciences.

A story well told is a story told with passion, and when you're only three-quarter-hearted about ceremonial megalithic urinals in Ghastlistan (are they of Etruscan origin?), it shows -- even if everybody (even the audience, because it helps them feel more high-brow and less voyeuristic) is trying to pretend that it doesn't.

I could make up a good story as to why it is historically or culturally or educationally essential, or vital to the interests of world peace, that I ride a bicycle from Shanghai to Shoreditch (I might ditch Exeter because nothing in China alliterates with it; oh, now you've got me going, if you can't find a valid humanistic or intellectual peg, try a verbal one, Shanghai to Shangri-La -- that would be nice, actually, the perfect contrast between a sea-level urban-industrial cosmopolitan-consumerist skycraperland nightmare and an ascetic little dream-world of peace, karma and yak-dung high up in the mountains; and, as it happens, they've just officially re-named a little Yunnanese town in the Himalayas "Shangri-La" (I kid you not -- look it up: it was called Zhongdian until a year or two ago)) -- anyway, I was going to say, I could make up a story about why I'm going, or I could tell you the truth: because it's there.  I'm not a mountaineer, I'm a map-gazer: big blank empty spaces; jumbled piles of contours; roads in places where you ask yourself, not just how the hell did they build a road up there, but why the hell?; long lines from A to B; - these are the things that call out to me, saying, "Ride me!", just as Everest bellowed "Climb me!" into Hillary's lug-hole.




2wheels on TV!

Folks, it's official.

2wheels is coming to a TV screen near you!

All it takes is for someone to agree to make the film, and then for a broadcaster to agree to broadcast it.

Yes, 2wheels is just two short steps away from taking its rightful place in the cultural pantheon, right up there alongside Neighbours, Neighbours from Hell, and I'm An Idiot Get Me Out Of Here.

I am much encouraged by recent discussions with people in the 'tv biz', which go along the lines of:

Them: This sounds fantastic, yes we'd love to make a film about your amazing expedition. What did you say your name was again?

Me: Edward Genochio.

Them: Oh, not Michael Palin?

Me: No.

Them: Oh, well, we'll think about. Don't call us, we'll call you.

So I think that's pretty much a done deal. Stay tuned for scheduling information!


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Cornish patsy?

Lest my post earlier today about the use of non-Roman writing systems in domain names causes you to think I am anti-foreign-languages: far from it.

Our dear friend the Grauniad reports on trouble afoot in Cornwall, where attempts to popularise the Cornish language are being undermined by the fact that no two people seem to agree on how you should spell it.

I hope they come to an agreement quickly and get on with keeping Cornish alive. Linguistic diversity is one of mankind's greatest assets - yet it is being eroded almost as quickly as species diversity. If the proponents of Cornish can build up a sustainable speaker base (hey, did you hear that? Can I come and work for your management consultancy?), then that is all to the good.


Web addresses in Chinese?

[key words: internet, nominet, english, domain names]

The Grauniad reports that Nominet is considering allowing registration of domain names using non-Roman alphabet character-sets under the .uk TLD. Potentially this could include the use of accented characters (as in café, for example), other alphabets such as Arabic, or even non-alphabetic scripts such as Chinese.

This is, says the Guardian, "
in a move designed to reflect the country's multicultural mix".

This seems to me to be a bad idea.

One of the web's, and in particular the domain name system's, great advantages is its universality.

I would be very surprised if fewer than 99.99% of people  who use the internet
worldwide, are not familiar with the Roman alphabet. The same cannot be said for Arabic, Chinese, Laotian or other writing systems.

the majority of the world's population does not speak" English, points out the Guardian. Fine. Websites can be in whatever language they want, and rightly so.

But keep domain names in the universally-understood Roman alphabet. It's got nothing to do with the dominance of English, or cultural imperialism. It's just the only alphabet that everyone in the world can read - and type.

The Nominet proposal, on which public comments are sought, is here.



So far I have received no complaints about the invitation to "sing up for regular 2wheels email updates", which appears at the foot of every page on my website.

This says little for the powers of observation of the several hundred of you who visit the website each day.

Or, perhaps it simply says that you are not a bunch of pedants with nothing better to do.

Or, that few have the stamina to reach the bottom of my over-long web pages.

Or, simply that you were prepared to take me at my word, open your mouths and warble in the hope of receiving 2wheels news.

In any case, it is too late now; I have fixed the misprunt, and those of you have been singing up are encouraged to sign up instead.


A brief account of a journey by bicycle from Topsham to China, by the author

Those of you who missed the news first time round, or whose memories need refreshing, may want to read a brief account of my journey to China last year.


Recent deaths: Cardinal Sin and John Peel, and the end of Mark and Lard.

I have just learnt that Cardinal Sin, a name so perfectly composed that it needs no conjuring, died on June 21st this year. Whether or not the Philippines have lost a great archbishop is not for me to judge; but the whole world will mourn the passing of a Great Name.

John Peel was lost to his family, BBC radio, and the world, last year, and the airwaves will never hum quite the same way again.

Another loss to radio last year was the shutting down of Radio 1's Mark and Lard combo. I suppose the end had to come some time, but few people made listening to crap music more entertaining.

When I get back to the UK at the end of 2006, the radio will almost be a foreign country. Just so long a Charlotte Green is still there, there will still be something to come back to.

Here in Shanghai, I've been using the internet, at vast expense, to follow the Ashes cricket series through the dulcit tones of Blowers, Aggers, CMJ and, err, Merv Hughes (spot the odd one out) on TMS. Worth every jiao.

A new one for my list of absent antonyms

Here's a new one that, despite 'trophy' being a common English word, still qualifies under rule 8:


This is also the first one using the Greek-derived negative prefix a- that I've allowed onto my list.

Rule 5 disqualifies words that are primarily technical or medical, but I am inclined towards allowing




on the grounds that they are in reasonably common non-specialist use.

If you've no idea what I'm on about, see here: Absent Antonyms

News Just In from Shanghai Century Park Managament Company Ltd.

Rules posted at the entrance to Century Park in Pudong, Shanghai. (Everything is [sic].)

According to "Shanghai Park Management Rules", tourists entering the park shall obey these rules.

1. Tourists shall obey the opening hours of the park, Tourists should enter the park with valid card or ticket, The children under 1.2 m or psychopath are not allowed to enter the park by themselves

2. Tourists entering the park shall obey the “seven prohibitions” norms for Shanghai residents, prohibit relieve the bowels everywhere, paste advertisement, scribble, damage the equipments. Prohibit barebacked or lie on the floor, wash clothes, glean and beg, prohibit climb the rockery, or swim in the river, prohibit playing the soccer or flying kites. (except in allowable places)

3. Prohibit tease or catch the Aves, cricket fish and hexapod (except allowable place). Prohibit entering the park with animal, prohibit damaging the vegetation or trees, cultivating flowers, catching hydrophyte.

4. Prohibit carrying arms and ammunition, combustible and explosives or other dangerous articles into the park, prohibit setting off the firecracker, barbeque or encampment (except allowable places)

5. Prohibit disturbing other per people in the park. The team play shall obey the management department of the park. Prohibit make a speech, assemblage or pass around the hat without permission, prohibit doing activities of superstition, gambling or the behaviours not allowed by the law and regulations. Prohibit set up the small stall, practise medicine or serve round the handbill in the park.

6. The vehicles are prohibit from entering the park without permission (except the specially vehicles used by disabled person). Vehicles allowed to enter the park should steer slowly in the park with permission.


Shanghai Virescence Management Bureau



Friday, July 15, 2005

What a good idea

Hands up if you have half a tonne of stuff at home that you want to chuck - but you can't bring yourself to junk it because you know someone, somewhere, would really like to have it?

OK, you can put your hand down now, and use it to click on Freecycle.

I don't think there's a Freecycle community in Shanghai yet - but, if anyone wants a pair of cheap computer speakers, a Chinese-speaking answering machine, three very cheap plastic wastepaper baskets, a perspex paperweight, some second-hand slippers, a metal fruit bowl, a mini anglepoise lamp, or a set of multicoloured plastic clothespegs, just drop me a line, and we'll get one started.

Oh, you can also have an extension lead with some dodgy wiring, and a quite-nice large-size Chinese wall calendar from 2003.


Search engine news

Yes, it's official.

2wheels has slam-dunked into GOOGLE'S TOP 5 RANKED SITES when you search for freddie starr hamster.

Don't believe it? You gotta believe it - check here and see it with your own beady little eyes.

And you can help bring 2wheels up even higher, to the place it really belongs, the number 1 slot, just by adding a link from your website to the URL below:

Thank you for your support.

"2wheels - making the web less relevant"

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Your comments, please!

If there is anything you want to say, "in public", in response to anything you have seen on the 2wheels website, you are welcome to say it here, by adding a comment.

(If you want to write to me privately, email me here.)


Something for the weekend

If you're in Devon this weekend, you can combine mountain-biking and fund-raising at Mallet's Bash, in memory of Richard Mallett.

Richard was one of the inspirations behind the original 2wheels expedition. He died of cancer last year.

This event is being held to raise money for FORCE Cancer Charity, which helped support Richard and his wife Kim during his illness.

Please support Mallett's Bash if you can.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Plane speaking

Look what I just found on,11329,609175,00.html

The best of your emails: Wednesday July 13
Re: A nation hooked on flying
Footprint guide winner
Your recent features on the environmental costs of flying prompt me to tell this little story.

Last year, I rode my bicycle - emission-free and carbon neutral - 20,000 kilometres from England to China, and arrived feeling moderately pleased that I'd come quite a long way without pumping so much as an ounce of the polluting stuff into the atmosphere.

Then my partner flew out to meet me in Shanghai. A few weeks later, her parents decided they would make the most of us being there, so they came to check out China as well - via the plane. My mother and grandmother were not far behind. Then last month my sister popped over for a jet-propelled look-see, her boyfriend in tow. My partner's brother and his wife are expected in a week or two, and they won't be pedalling either.

As unintended consequences go, this one was pretty bad. One squeaky-clean intercontinental bike ride has ended up being responsible for no less than nine round-trip intercontinental air journeys.

In September, in an attempt to dry up the stream of airborne visitors (of all of whom I am very fond, I hasten to point out), I'll be getting back on my bike and riding home again. But without the smug eco-friendly grin on my face. And probably wearing sackcloth too.
Edward Genochio

It's a funny thing.

You send these emails in the middle of the night and forget all about them, and then next thing you know, you win a thumping great book.

Did the Guardian tell me about my letter-writing triumph? No. I only found out because I happened to be looking at my web access logs, and noticed that someone came to 2wheels by way of the Grauniad's traevl section.

Oh well. Perhaps I'll ask them to air-mail my prize out to me....


An opening salvo

Is this working?


Yes, here's my little "is this working" post to inaugurate my shiny new blog.

Isn't it a strange thing how every blog in the world starts with those same three words: is this working?

Maybe blogging systems are specially programmed so that they only work if you start off by saying "is this working".

Maybe if you try starting a new blog with something original -- has anyone else noticed how few centipedes one comes across in Doncaster these days?, for example -- the blogging system automatically cancels your blog and no one can ever read it.

Maybe that's why the only blogs we ever see always start off with is this working. There are thousands that began with something more interesting -- but we're never allowed to see them.

"Idle musings for an idle mind," perhaps you are saying at this point. And perhaps you are right.

An idle mind in an idle body, that was our school motto, if I remember rightly, and a jolly good one it was too. I think it was probably in Latin originally, but I was never much cop at that. How did it go again? I've a terrible memory for Latin. Veni, vidi, vici, wasn't it? Something like that, anyway. I think it was Aristotle probably who first came up with it. Frightfully good stuff.

Mottoes are rather out of fashion at the moment in some circles. This is to be lamented. There is nothing like a good motto. Dictums, aphorisms, maxims, epithets, catchphrases, proverbs, all these have their place, but they are not, in my opinion, adequate substitutes for a motto.

I was lucky enough to have diligent parents, who were not content to see me swashed and backwashed up and down the pebbly beach of life armed only with whatever half-baked idiom I could lay my flailing hands on. No, they toured up and down the country looking for a school that would set me up for life, and they were wise enough to know that when push comes to shove, when hanky comes to panky, what counts when choosing a school is not curriculums or gymnasiums or redecorated sanatoriums, but mottoes. And when it comes to mottoes, there are none better than the one that has served me well throughout my life: An idle mind in an idle body.

Now, you will not have been slow to notice, I have so far refrained from mentioning bicycles in this opening salvo of the 2wheels blog. There will, I think, be plenty to come in the velocipede department, so gird up your loins (if girding they should need) and be patient. Bicycles will come.

Before they do, though, I have some hot news in off the wires from the Government. Hold on to your hats, chaps, here it comes.

Target set on Targets

The Targets Minister, John Target, today announced that the government planned to reduce the number of targets by 7% annually over the next 5 years.

"We're on target to meet this tough target, year on year," a spokesman for the Ministry of Targets said.

And who could disagree with that? Have my vote, old fellow, it's the least you deserve.

Yes, yes, the point. I know. I really should get to the point, but that is not so easy as it sounds when there isn't one.

Latest news on the 2wheels website.

Do you know how much I hate myself when I have to say things like "Latest news on the 2wheels website"? What has life come to, when we sing and dance about such ridiculous nonsense? If a man falls off a horse, or a coal-miner's wife grows a very large radish, we would be concerned for the former, and pleased for the latter, and rightly so.

But if a few words appear here and there on a website, should we really be yelping from the minarets, ululating in the cloisters, whirling in the dervishes? The same words, perhaps configured differently, have almost certainly been written down elsewhere before.

If there is anything worse than other people's bicycle journeys, it is other people writing about their bicycle journeys.

Well, fortunately in this case it is not other people writing about their bicycle journeys; no, it is me writing about mine, so relax, sit back, and enjoy. I'd get in quickly, though, if I were you, before all the bicycle stuff gets shoved in there. At the moment I'm recuperating from a lengthy spell of sitting on my back-side in Shanghai by sitting on my back-side in Shanghai. This situation will not be maintained indefinitely. A month or two hence, I will be riding a bicycle again and then the website will start to strain and sag under ponderous weight of lengthy and tedious essays about gear ratios and bottom brackets. For now, there are still a few secluded coves of 2wheels real estate where the bicycle's touch has been but lightly felt.

Have a look around. There are pictures of Bad Things on -- see them quickly before they are banned.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the day when my charming next-door neighbours decide not to boil cauldronsful of past-their-best-before fish heads at six o'clock in the morning. As aromatic alarm clocks go, it is not the most pleasant. Incidentally, someone once told me that humans cannot smell in their sleep, but I can assure you that is not the case. I have it on the good authority of my lady friend that I smell just as pungent by night as I do by day, or perhaps even a little more so.

Gentlemen, ladies, citizens all, it has been a pleasure. I bid you Good Night, and, to my non-voting friends across the manche, a most splendid veille du jour de la Bastille.