Wednesday, 31 December 2014

an english question

The last day of yet another year, a year that seems to have passed by even more quickly than the previous year, and it’s time for another connection puzzle. The title of this post is intended to warn American readers that some knowledge of British geography, history and culture will be needed to solve it, but even then it might give you a bigger headache than the alcohol you’ve probably been drinking this evening.
How might contemplating the force of the wind lead you to think about
• an English bay;
• an English palace;
• a northern English town;
• a mediƦval English city; and
• a former British prime minister?
If you haven’t seen this kind of puzzle before, you need to turn what are general clues into specific answers. For example, is the mediƦval English city Canterbury? York? Oxford? Cambridge? Or somewhere else? The correct overall answer can only be found by comparing lists of answers for the individual clues, but once you have a match between two clues, the rest should fall into place quite easily.

As usual, I will acknowledge all correct answers, but I won’t actually publish an answer for a few weeks, to give other readers a chance to work it out for themselves.

similar puzzles
A Hard Question
What’s the Connection?
Odd One Out

Thursday, 25 December 2014

the great dolly mixture robbery

Between 2000 and 2002, I wrote a comic fantasy novel about mythical creatures called gelgins, based on an idea I’d had more than two decades earlier but not acted upon. However, after two years of trying to find either a publisher or an agent, I gave up, because the book clearly wasn’t good enough overall, although there are passages that I still think are funny. What follows is one such passage, which is the opening ‘episode’ in the tenth and final chapter of the book. Key previous events in the story should be obvious, apart from the complicity of sheep in the robbery that is the climax of the story. So, if you’re fed up with turkey and the rest of the traditional festive comestibles, if you can’t find anything worth watching on TV, or if you simply want to read something utterly daft, here you are. Some background information on gelgins can be gained by reading Chaos Theory. You may well conclude that no publisher in their right mind would want to be associated with such drivel.

*  *  *

The daring daylight dolly mixture robbery was an immediate sensation in the wider world, where it abruptly replaced a scandal about a black labrador called Judy and a gadgie’s* bag of sticky treacle toffees as the hot topic of conversation at the nation’s breakfast tables. The BBC, with one eye on the calendar, had initially decided that the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax, so the tabloids were the first to run the story, although in their news treatments ‘gallop’ would be a more accurate term. As you would have expected, there was heavy bias towards the alien visitor hypothesis, but neither the broadsheets nor the heavyweight weeklies nor the local village gossips were far behind in their promotion of this explanation.

The BBC, perhaps to atone for its earlier oversight, even condescended to discuss the circumstances surrounding this brass-necked effrontery to civilized behaviour on respectable Radio 4, where the presenters on the Today program, not being required to keep straight faces as they would, presumably, on television, were assigned the task of interviewing all the usual suspects. Senior police officers presented purportedly factual accounts, but they were unable to establish any credible motive, although the opportunity had been obvious, and there were other notable gaps where the evidence was a bit thin. Important scientists, led by that redoubtable Dr Rhadamanthus McLott of earlier newsworthy notoriety, offered what they claimed were logical explanations, but these were also founded on a paucity of proof, in solid, liquid or gaseous form. And, as we have come to expect, all the country’s leading politicians provided the usual vapid evasions, although there were earnest assurances that everything was being done to combat this sort of thing.

But to counterbalance all this objectivity and to maintain the program’s near legendary, bend-over-backwards reputation for even-handedness and fair play, an arresting array of scintillating cynics and sympathetic psychics, eclectic eccentrics and inimitable mimics, mysterious mystics and rumbustious rustics, and men who keep score at cricket because nobody else wants it were allowed their turns at the microphone, and between them they offered every conceivable theory, and some that you wouldn’t have thought were within touching distance of being conceivable this side of the next millennium. In fact, so many came forward that the statutory minimum duration of a period of fame had to be slashed from the fifteen minutes originally stipulated by that nice Mr Warhol to twenty-seven seconds.

There were grave financial repercussions. The collapse of international futures markets in dolly mixtures led to massive short selling of liquorice allsorts and even shorter selling of jelly babies. Many leading economists predicted huge flights of capital into fruit pastilles and the immediate closure of unprofitable sherbet mines with the loss of hundreds and thousands of jobs. In the ensuing confusion, several toffee-nosed financiers attempted to fudge the issue by selling their contingency reserves of gold nougats at less than market price. All right, own up! Who’s behind this? Who’s responsible for all this uninvited confectionery? And so far nobody has been able to butterscotch the rumour that a very small country with a surprisingly large army of chocolate soldiers has cornered the market in oil of peppermint. Now, that’s enough! Enough humbug, that is. Can we get on with the story?

The official police investigation was hampered from the start by several problems, although they did have some clues. There was the bucket of petrol that the escaping gelgins had left in the car park and the plastic tubing that had been used to tie up the driver, both of which were identified as having been stolen from a car in the same car park late in the evening before the robbery. The owner of that car hadn’t bothered to report that someone had nicked his bucket, but he soon came forward when he heard about the large reward being offered for information leading to the apprehension of the thieves. And everybody was hugely relieved that nobody had kicked the bucket while it still contained the petrol, or during the remainder of the madcap chase, for that matter. Now that really would have been beyond the pail.

There was also the plastic ketchup bottle that Sneedl’bodja had so thoughtlessly tossed into the hedge. There were no fingerprints, and the mysterious smudgy marks that were discovered by the fingerprint expert offered nothing on which to base a hypothesis. Apparently, though, the bottle had once contained an unknown explosive substance, and this was quickly identified by the forensic team, although no details were made public at the time, so we’ve only their word for it. In any case, not one of these items provided any firm leads, which meant that the police were in distinguished company, because no one else had any ideas about this business either, although, somehow, it didn’t seem like a meticulously planned operation. This was about the only thing that the police got right in the entire investigation.

For example, the driver gave highly misleading descriptions of the robbers. They were not inaccurate, exactly—the driver had an uncanny memory for faces—but he did exaggerate their heights. Rather a lot, actually. Mainly to avoid being thought a fool, he neglected to mention that the robbers were not of average height. And, by the merest coincidence (not another one) he just happened to be the only gadgie to have seen our bold buccaneers in all their menacing swash and buckling, all their dastardly do and derring, so the police thought they were hunting three gadgies. And his descriptions may have been full of detail, but—and here’s the really clever part—the disguises that were worn by the robbers were so obviously and transparently counterfeit that they attracted all his attention, and he was able to describe them in minute detail, but he forgot to notice anything else. There were many scores of other eye-witnesses too, all of whom were prepared to swear that the devilish driver was wearing a mask, but not one was able to furnish a single concrete detail of his real appearance. Strange. Well, yes, he probably did look strange.

There was another mystery. The police couldn’t understand why the robbers had made off with the wagon’s entire load of dolly mixtures but had left behind a leather satchel containing twenty-five thousand pounds in used banknotes, which was in the wagon’s cab. However, by way of consolation, and to demonstrate that the investigative powers of the police are all they’re made out to be after all, this satchel turned out to be the first clue to the existence of an international money-laundering operation with its headquarters in a Chinese laundry in Bethnal Green, although it did take the police team rather a long time to find that out, and they did lose several shirts in the process.

In desperation (ewe will not believe this), the police decided that they would round up scores of sheep from the fields and fellsides in the immediate vicinity of the stolen wagon’s final journey on suspicion of going on the rampage, or perhaps of being ram raiders. The ramifications of this sinister development were not clearly understood at the time, but it led to the sheep being interrogated by a ramshackle panel of experts in strange behaviour, who threatened that non-cooperation would mean a one-way trip to the abattoir. This, of course, is strictly against the Geneva Convention, but nobody squealed, or, to avoid the porcine connotations of this word, not a single sheep bleated, even though some of the younger ones were threatened with the notorious rack of lamb. They all pretended to be mutton.

A massive reward was offered to anyone who could provide a convincing explanation that did not invoke crop circles, but eventually the investigation ground to a halt, reached a dead end, came up against a brick wall, ran out of steam, hit the buffers, petered out, and switched off the light and retired for the night. Nevertheless, there was a fall-back position, as the detective superintendent left in charge of the case pointed out at a packed press conference several weeks after the heist. Alien visitors. Alien visitors? Sherlock Holmes may have said that once the impossible has been eliminated, that which remains, however improbable, must be the truth. But neither the illustrious Baker Street consulting detective nor his partly baked modern counterpart had ever heard of gelgins, and as Holmes also said, on numerous occasions, it is impossible to build a watertight case unless you are in possession of all the relevant facts. And the perplexed detective leading this investigation had a case that was leakier than a string bag. A purportedly rigorous proof that the Earth is flat would have been more likely to convince, especially when any alien visitor could have told you, if you had only bothered to ask, that it is in fact pear-shaped. Isn’t it?

In his earlier flirtation with celebrity, Dr Rhadamanthus McLott had quickly discovered that no one was interested in his theories once it had become clear that he had no little green gender-neutral entities to spring upon his audience, but now that his carefully assembled hypothesis had become official police policy, he was overwhelmed by demands for interviews from all and sundry, amateur and professional, anyone, in fact, with a boredom threshold high enough to be able to tolerate the tedium of a typically tortuous scientific exposition. And as this particular strain of long-windedness goes, Dr McLott’s explanations were more circumlocutory than a bypass for Birmingham that goes via Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, not necessarily in that order.

Although a handful of investigative journalists between them interviewed every single gadgie in the entire valley, they unearthed no evidence that would support any kind of explanation for the abrupt disappearance of three tons of dolly mixtures, seemingly into thin air. The editor of UFOria, a magazine for the seriously loose of slates, was especially disappointed not to be able to confirm his own pet theory, which was that some friends of his from Alpha Centauri were responsible for the heist. Some reporters did hear a few tales of poltergeists, but no more than the national average, and Crazy Maisy did tell several that the gelgins were responsible, but they had been forewarned that she was quite a few boats short of a flotilla, so nobody believed her. There was also an odd tale about ‘whisky that drank itself’, but that had happened so long ago and was of such doubtful reliability that nobody bothered to follow it up. It seemed more like a pathetic ruse to relieve gullible city slickers of the price of a double whisky rather than an important clue.

With nothing concrete to feed the initial media frenzy, interest quickly ebbed, and the tabloids soon went back to their more usual fare, world exclusive ‘revelations’ about gadgies who think they’re famous, handy pull-out guides to the healing powers of crystals and other such tosh, and interviews with gadgies who claim to talk to flowers. The presenters of Today were hugely relieved to be able to return to their stock-in-trade, interviewing gadgies who think they’re important, and they were most severe on anyone who so much as dared to mention the Great Dolly Mixture Robbery.

*gadgie: the gelgin word for a human.
 a flock of sheep provided crucial assistance during the robbery.

Friday, 12 December 2014

the eastern descent

If you’ve been reading any of my other cycling posts, you’ll know that I have a particular fondness for what I usually refer to as ‘twisty paths’ (see Journey to the West: Part 4; Journey to the West: Part 5; The Long and Winding Road). This post documents such a path, one of my favourites and one that is within walking distance of my house. It starts near the walled village of Tung Kok Wai and goes down to the Sha Tau Kok Road, a major freight route into and out of China. It is the shortest route from Tung Kok Wai to the main road for pedestrians and cyclists, but it’s not for the faint-hearted, with severe drops off the side of the path at several points along the way.

Although this path is close to my home, I follow it only when returning from afternoon tea at Sun Ming Yuen Restaurant, which is located next to Fanling railway station. There is a more direct route, following cycle tracks that run alongside Sha Tau Kok Road, but this involves crossing two major junctions on the level, so I decided to see whether there were any alternatives. There were, and this path forms part of one such option.

The following sequence of photographs gives a flavour of the route. The drop off the side may be intimidating, but unlike some of the other twisty paths that I negotiate regularly, there are no technically challenging sections (tight bends, etc.) here. The photos are arranged in sequence, starting at the top.

If you do find yourself cycling on this or any other similar path, you should remember the golden rule: always defer to pedestrians; these are, after all, footpaths.

Friday, 21 November 2014

good idea, poor execution

What is the Hong Kong government’s policy on cycling? At first glance, it would seem to be extremely positive; this extract is from a government website:
Cycling is a great way to enjoy Hong Kong – you will become fit and healthy. As a bonus, you will get to see the natural beauty all around us.
Unfortunately, if you were to dig a little deeper, you would find that the policy is deeply flawed. It seems to me that the government is anxious to segregate cyclists in their own little universe, even to the extent of squandering vast sums of money in the process.

This may seem an outrageous statement to make, so I should elaborate. The government is in the process of constructing a dedicated cycle track from Sheung Shui to Yuen Long. Work started during the summer, and if there was a consultation period beforehand, I missed it, because I was in the UK. As a regular cyclist, I would have objected.

The work that is currently underway follows the west bank of the river northwards from Sheung Shui, as shown on the following map, which I obtained from the website of the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD). The section in question has been circled and labelled A (the grey sections indicate where work is in progress, while the parts of the proposed route where work hasn’t yet started are coloured pink).
The project forms part of the NT Cycle Track Network which connects local cycle track networks in various new towns and is mainly for recreation purpose. The works under this project comprise the construction of new cycle tracks of approximately 11 km long from Yuen Long to Sheung Shui together with the provision of supporting facilities.
CEDD website (italics added).

I have two questions. Why is the Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road being duplicated here? And why did work start with this section in the first place, when there is already a perfectly good DSD access road, which carries only local motor traffic and has regular speed bumps to deter speeding, while there are no safe options for cycling at present along the middle section of the proposed route? This is the basis of my contention that the government wants to keep recreational cycling apart from all other vehicular traffic. In fact, I can foresee a day when cycling on the access road instead of the new cycle track results in a ticket for the rider.

The following photographs show part of the access road, with the adjoining construction work. Note the big concrete retaining wall, the size of which can be measured by the worker in the first photo. I do wonder why this is needed, unless the plan is for the cycle track to go under the Sheung Yue River, which the access road crosses via a perfectly adequate bridge (behind the camera in the second photo). And what neither photo shows is the large number of trees that have been removed to make way for the cycle track.

Because work on this section is already underway, it will be completed before the section beyond the DSD access road, which means that recreational cyclists who were not already aware of cycling possibilities in this area will come here, reach the end and then be forced to turn back, which seems like a pointless exercise to me. Unless we’re careful, we could end up with the kind of mayhem that exists on the wide cycleway between Shatin and Taipo at weekends and on public holidays, when the system is clogged up by weekend cyclists who hire their bikes for the day but have no idea how to ride them. Perhaps such anarchic conditions already prevail in this area on Sundays, but I never go out cycling on Sundays, so I cannot confirm this possibility.

And what about my earlier comment about squandering vast sums of money? According to the CEDD website, the estimated cost of this project is HK$536 million (£44 million; US$69 million), which I would have taken to be the cost of the entire section but for the appearance of ‘7259RS’ on the map. This number also appears on the webpage detailing the project and is clearly a project number applying to the whole of the route shown on the map, yet the obvious inference from the map is that the cost estimate applies only to the part of the project between the green arrows.

I should emphasize that I’m not against the government spending money to improve the territory’s cycling facilities, but I consider that spending this amount of money without an accompanying, hard-hitting campaign to improve the standard of proficiency of the cyclists who use these facilities is not money well spent. I have yet to see any public information films on cycling safety, and I can’t help wondering whether many regular cyclists have read the safety tips provided on the Cycling Information Centre’s website.

I make these comments because I frequently see examples of poor cycling practice when out on my bike. Earlier this week, I was riding along the cycle track marked with a solid grey line in the bottom left-hand corner of the map when I spotted a lone cyclist coming towards me on the adjacent road, which is a dual carriageway that carries high-speed traffic.

However, the most egregious example of poor practice that I’ve witnessed this year occurred as Paula and I began the climb over Saddle Pass from the west, where we encountered the stragglers in a group that we both estimated to contain at least forty riders. I thought that they didn’t seem very confident, but Paula told me later that some of them didn’t even know how to change gear! This on a hill where I go from ninth gear at the bottom to second gear at the top. And when I reached the top section, which has a gradient of around 30 percent, the members of the group who had reached this point were all over the place as they pushed their bikes up the hill. I wonder what they’d have done if a big truck had suddenly appeared over the brow of the hill from the opposite direction—this road does carry some motor traffic, although it isn’t busy—given that their entire focus was on what they were doing while ignoring whatever was happening around them. And I wonder whose idea it was to take so many beginners over such a demanding route in the first place.

The proposed cycle track should keep inexperienced cyclists happy and away from the hills, but I can’t see either myself or Paula using it. Our preferred route may even be safer, albeit for cyclists who know what they’re doing. Meanwhile, I repeat my earlier question: why wasn’t work on the central section of the proposed route, from Kwu Tung to Fairview Park, started first?

Sod’s law in action! I took the photos on Wednesday and wrote the post on Friday, but by Saturday the situation on the ground had changed. Earth had been dumped all the way to the top of the concrete retaining wall in some places, so my surmise that the plan is for the track to go under the Sheung Yue River is clearly incorrect. My excuse is that the material at the base of the wall was being rolled, which suggested that it wasn’t too far below the eventual level of the track. And I do wonder how adequately the newly dumped material will be compacted.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

journey to the west: part 5

When I originally worked out ‘journey to the west’, it involved returning along the same route as that taken on the outward journey. However, in Part 3, I described two alternative return sections, and in Part 4, I provided details of yet another alternative, the notorious ‘snake path’. This post provides details of the only other locations where such an alternative route home is possible.

*  *  *

For many months, I believed that the tunnel under the railway described in Across the Tracks and The Hill was the only point where it was possible to cross the main line north of Sheung Shui station, which is the last stop before the border with the rest of China. However, one day I arrived at the tunnel only to find that access had been blocked by the railway company, which was engaged in repairs to the track’s overhead power lines. I had no option but to seek an alternative, believing at first that no such alternative existed.

Nevertheless, it turns out that there is a second crossing point, following a dedicated cycle track that runs alongside a major road, Po Shek Wu Road. This cycle track is reached by turning right just before Beas River flows into the Shum Chun River and following the latter upstream until it is possible to cross the river at a footbridge. The road reached by this route has a cycle track running along the far side that leads into the local network.

This network is the principal means of access to the roads around the Shum Chun River catchment for recreational cyclists from the city, who take the train to Sheung Shui. However, my destination is not Sheung Shui station, so it is necessary to abandon the cycle track network at some point. This involves yet another twisting path, one that has some extremely tricky sections.

I’m being deliberately vague about the location of this path, because quite a lot of people live here, and a large cycling group following it would be a serious nuisance to them, and to the other locals who use it, especially if some members lacked the close control that is essential on such paths. I probably wouldn’t use it myself, except that, living only a mile or so upriver, I regard myself as a local. I took the following photographs, which have been arranged in sequence, yesterday after walking from my house.

The start of the path.

A closer look at the bend seen in the previous photo, which is extremely tricky to negotiate.

Having successfully negotiated the bend seen in the previous photo, the task now is to maintain a straight line and thus avoid the sharp drop on each side of the path.

Further along, this brown dog can usually be seen asleep on the path. It used to move when I first came this way, but it appears to recognize me now and thus pays no attention.

This is one of the few places where it’s possible to overtake a slow cyclist.

It isn’t obvious from this photo, but this is the apex of a 180-degree bend, with the ubiquitous drop-off on each side of the path. From this and the next photo, it is obvious that the path has been widened here, presumably because people found the bend impossible to negotiate safely.

No sooner has the path straightened out from the previous bend than it sweeps away in the opposite direction.

Nearing the end of the path.

*  *  *

The ‘posh street’ mentioned in Part 2 backs onto the same tributary that we follow later in the journey to reach the Kam Tin River, but there is a Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road on the other side that carries almost no traffic. We’ve been following this access road on the return journey for several months now, crossing the river at a footbridge opposite the bottom entrance to Tam Mei Camp, the second of the PLA bases described in Part 2, to rejoin the original route.

However, the access road continues up the valley and thence out of sight, and according to Google Maps it should be possible to add an additional 3km loop to the route. I’ve just checked this out in the last couple of weeks, armed with a printout of the following map:

The line of red dots marks the route I planned to follow, if possible, in an anticlockwise direction, although previous experience suggested that some at least of the roads might turn out to be mere footpaths and thus difficult or even impossible to ride along. I was delighted to discover that apart from a short section following the initial turn off Chun Shin Road (the access road), which is an untypically flat-surfaced dirt road (see the first photo below), the rest of the loop is along quiet lanes with very little traffic, making this a worthwhile addition to the overall route.

If you look closely at the first photo, you might just be able to make out two large tower cranes camouflaged against the forested hillside. Hong Kong’s connection to China’s high-speed rail network will eventually pass through this mountain. The remaining photos give a flavour of the riding conditions along the loop, which turned out to be something of a switchback ride.

Friday, 31 October 2014

the three immortals

You don’t have to go far, in places where the Chinese have a significant presence, before you encounter a group of three ceramic figurines of venerable Chinese gentlemen. These are Fuk, Luk and Sau (the Cantonese names for these characters), collectively known as the three immortals. They are found in temples, in restaurants, in shops and in many Chinese homes, and they have huge symbolic cultural significance.

The first thing to note about the figures in the above photograph, which was taken at the same place as the first photograph in A Baker’s Dozen, is that they aren’t placed in the traditional order. Tradition requires that Luk stand in the centre, but here he stands on the left, while Sau, who should be on the left, is in the centre. These three figurines were not there when the first picture was taken earlier this year, and it is certainly odd to see them standing atop a pile of junk.

Fuk, Luk and Sau represent what the Chinese consider to be the three most desirable characteristics of an ideal life: good luck, prosperity and longevity.

Fuk is a scholar who is usually depicted holding a scroll in one hand and a small child in the other. He is regarded as the personification of good fortune, although it would make more sense for him to represent knowledge or wisdom.

Luk translates as the salary paid to a government official, and he was often seen as the tutelary deity of candidates for the imperial civil service examinations. He wears the winged hat of a court official, and nowadays he represents prosperity.

Sau, the old man with the domed forehead, obviously represents longevity. He always carries a peach, which in Chinese folklore is the symbol of a long life. One of the best-known exploits of the monkey king, the central character in Journey to the West and one of the most popular characters in Chinese folklore, is his theft of the peaches of immortality from the heavenly peach orchard (and scoffing the lot). The following picture is a still from Havoc in Heaven, a feature-length animated movie that was produced by the Shanghai Animation Studio in the 1960s, that shows this incident.

Peach blossom is also a symbol of longevity, and small peach trees are bought by many Chinese families as part of their new year celebrations. The following photograph shows a plantation of such trees a couple of kilometres south of Fanling. Like the European Christmas tree, these peach trees are sawn off close to the base and therefore cannot be reused the following year. Note that some of the trees are much bigger than the others, which means that they weren’t sold the previous year. However, bigger trees always fetch higher prices, so the grower can’t lose.

Of course, all this is mere superstition, although in saying so it is not my intention to denigrate Chinese folk beliefs, because I’m only too aware of the dozens of irrational notions that are native to my own country. However, the number of people there who touch wood for luck, who believe that it is unlucky to walk under a ladder or who deem it prudent to stay in bed whenever the thirteenth day of a month falls on a Friday has probably declined steadily in recent decades, while belief in the efficacy of the three immortals does not appear to have dimmed in the forty years I’ve been associated with Hong Kong.

Monday, 20 October 2014

a dangerous arrangement

Management of the rivers in the northern New Territories is the responsibility of the Drainage Services Department (DSD), which has overseen the canalization of these waterways to reduce the possibility of flooding. In order to maintain such an elaborate flood defence system, the DSD built access roads along the banks of the rivers, but the way these roads are used now varies from river system to river system.

The access road running alongside our local river is very popular with organized cycling groups.

For example, the access road along our local river is blocked by locked gates, so only authorized motor vehicles can gain access. In theory, cyclists and pedestrians are not allowed on these roads either—there are lots of warning signs—but in a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, the Home Affairs Department decided to build a number of sheltered seating areas along the access road soon after we came to live in Fanling in 2008, presumably for use by the cyclists and pedestrians who are not supposed to be there. The local district board then installed solar-powered street lighting (Owt Fresh?) in the summer of 2011. This informal arrangement works.

The access road that runs alongside the Sheung Yue River has speed bumps that are close enough together to deter reckless speeding.

However, when you cross the main railway line, you will find that the DSD access roads around the Sheung Yue River catchment are accessible to motor vehicles and are widely used by locals. Nevertheless, these roads are safe to cycle on, provided that cyclists ride sensibly, which isn’t always the case. The main reason for this is the provision of speed bumps every couple of hundred metres, so dangerous driving is a rarity.

Contrast these arrangements with those in operation in the Kam Tin River catchment. All the access roads are accessible to anyone, the only restriction being that some roads are designated one-way only. There are no speed limits, other than the territory-wide limit of 50km/hr on such roads, which is widely ignored here.

I’ve chosen to highlight four main problem areas. All four of the roads in question are single-track roads, and three are one-way.

Although it isn’t marked on this map, Yau Pok Road is one-way from B, the entrance to Fairview Park, to A. When I first came this way, I noted the ‘no entry’ signs at A, so I decided that I should follow Kam Pok Road, on the opposite side of the river. However, the constant stream of trucks and coaches roaring past at ridiculous speeds has meant that, on safety grounds, I now follow Yau Pok Road in both directions.

Yau Pok Road, looking upstream. This photo provides a good reflection of traffic conditions here.

Earlier this year, I was cycling from B to A when I noticed a policeman on a motorcycle crossing one of the two bridges across the river and continuing down Yau Pok Road. He stopped to reprimand two groups of pedestrians who were walking on the road rather than the footpath before stopping a teenage boy who was cycling the ‘wrong’ way. I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that the boy was handed a fixed penalty notice for his indiscretion. Should someone try to give me a ticket on this section, then I will refuse to pay, whatever the consequences. It seems completely unreasonable to me that anyone be penalized for putting personal safety before what they are legally required to do.

In any case, there are no houses or business premises along this road, so the only motor vehicles that need to use it are DSD vehicles trying to access the gates that lead down to the river. I therefore recommend that locked gates be installed across the two bridges and that Yau Pok Road be designated for use by pedestrians and cyclists only, in both directions. There is already a removable barrier at B.

Shortly after passing the entrance to Fairview Park, the route reaches Pok Wai South Road, which for part of its length runs alongside the Kam Tin River. It is the only road I’m highlighting here where traffic is permitted in both directions.

The main problem on this road is the roadside barriers, which are clearly shown in the following photograph:

Pok Wai South Road, looking north from B.

The tubular steel rails are obviously there to protect pedestrians, but their positioning, coupled with the broken line of kerbstones, make this a dangerous road for cyclists. The traffic on this road is fairly light, but there are similar roads in the area, such as the one on the opposite side of the river in the photo, that pose a significant risk to cyclists. The danger comes from cars travelling in the opposite direction. Most drivers keep well to the left, but a significant minority leave huge gaps—up to 150cm—on the left of their vehicles, which means that, inevitably, the clearance offered to an approaching cyclist is 15cm, or even less. And that doesn’t include protruding wing mirrors!

Having experienced this blatant lack of consideration on a couple of occasions where the approaching vehicle was travelling well in excess of the speed limit, and having noted the singular lack of an escape route should the driver of the oncoming vehicle misjudge his line, I now avoid all other such roads in the area, but there is no viable alternative to following Pok Wai South Road in both directions. Naturally, I favour the removal of all these roadside barriers, but traffic enforcement by the police to curb speeding and other forms of dangerous driving is also essential.

The final two dangerous sections present broadly similar problems. In each case, the road in question is used as a ‘rat run’, a convenient way of avoiding the traffic on Kam Tin Road (most clearly seen in the case of Kam Tai Road). The problem is the speed at which such vehicles travel—up to 100km/hr is far too common, and few drivers give cyclists a reasonable amount of room when overtaking. Far too many appear to regard cyclists as fixed rather than moving hazards.

An added difficulty on Kam Tai Road is the cyclists riding in the wrong direction, which appears to be a common habit here (the majority of offenders seem to be locals rather than recreational cyclists from outside the area). It may seem perverse to complain about people cycling the wrong way down a one-way road, having advocated just such behaviour in the case of Yau Pok Road (above). However, Yau Pok Road carries almost no traffic, so the one-way designation is entirely arbitrary, while Kam Tai Road carries quite a lot of traffic, much of which travels at insane speeds. Given how narrow this road is, anything coming the wrong way presents a serious hazard to other vehicles of both the two-wheeled and four-wheeled varieties.

Chi Ho Road between A and B is even more dangerous (east of A, the road is much wider and therefore safer), largely because drivers show little respect for cyclists. I therefore suggest that speed bumps be installed on both Kam Tai Road and Chi Ho Road, and more enforcement by the police on these roads would also be welcome.

In case anyone has gained the impression that I’m thinking only of my own convenience by highlighting the dangers of cycling around the Kam Tin River catchment, I should point out that this area is extremely popular with recreational cyclists, especially at weekends. I have no idea how often there are serious accidents involving cyclists here, but I would expect such incidents to be far too common given the way that some people drive on these roads. Something does need to be done.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

odd one out

I’ll be setting off back to Hong Kong early tomorrow morning, which means that I’ll be offline for a couple of days. As usual, here is one of my convoluted little puzzles to amuse (or frustrate) you while I’m incommunicado.
What connects the following?
• A TV hospital drama.
• A literary detective.
• Fluff.
• A type of comic verse.
• A nineteenth-century English poet.
Having established the connection, you then have to determine which is the odd one out, and why. This is probably the easier part of the question.

If you haven’t seen this kind of puzzle before, you need to turn what are general clues into specific answers. For example, is the English poet Wordsworth? Coleridge? Keats? Tennyson? Or someone else? The right overall answer can only be found by comparing lists of answers for the individual clues, but once you have a match between two clues, the rest should fall into place quite easily.

As usual, I will acknowledge all correct answers, but I won’t actually publish an answer for a few weeks, to give other readers a chance to work it out for themselves. Can anyone come up with the answer before I get back online?

spoiler alert
Correct solution submitted below.

similar puzzles
A Hard Question
What’s the Connection?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

photographic abstraction #12

There is a cosmic theme to this latest instalment in my photographic abstraction series, although that could simply be my imagination, and you might well see different things in these images. The source of these pictures should be obvious, except for Pisces, the origin of which I defy anyone to guess.


exploding galaxy


event horizon

worm hole

other posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction
Photographic Abstraction #2
Photographic Abstraction #3
Photographic Abstraction #4
Photographic Abstraction #5
Photographic Abstraction #6
Photographic Abstraction #7
Photographic Abstraction #8
Photographic Abstraction #9
Photographic Abstraction #10
Photographic Abstraction #11