The Stinchter Scale

You’ve heard of the Richter Scale for earthquakes. You’ve heard of the Beaufort Scale, which measures gale force in Tyne Dogger Fisher German Bight. You may or may not have heard of the Fujita Scale, which measures the intensity of tornadoes. Today, I introduce you to a new scientific scale, specially designed and calibrated to measure a potentially even more destructive and terrifying force of nature. It is the Stinchter Scale. It measures the state of my feet.

Literally minutes of work have gone into this astounding original contribution to the field of Foot Science. I am in the process of preparing a manuscript which I will be submitting to Nature, or, if rejected by that journal, the equally prestigious Northumbrian Cheese Fortnightly. I could not have achieved this without years of gagging at the smelly feet of others, as well as a deep study of the multifarious odours of my own. If anyone would like me to add their name to the list of authors, please let me know.
The Stinchter Scale
Force 0: My feet are reminiscent of daisies in springtime, rare spices of the Orient, climbing honeysuckle on a country trellis. Can be used to revive swooning Victorian ladies: simply apply to delicate nostrils. (Very rare)
Force 1: A musky, heady scent. Women passing by in the street turn their heads with smiles and lustful eyes. While dancing in the disco, people ask me “Hey, what’s that great new cologne you’re wearing?” My fashion sense magically increases. All this is filmed for a new deodorant commercial.
Force 2: “Cracking Cheese, Gromit!” After a hard morning’s trekking, I allow my hiking boots to air while tucking into the lunchtime snacks of dried fruit and biscuits. Hiking companions ask me to pass the cheese, as it smells so tasty – but there is no cheese!
Force 3: People are starting to complain about the omnipresent odour of fromage. I have to leave my boots and socks outside the tent, hoping the mountain air will neutralize the smell. When the wet-wipes are passed out, I am handed a double ration.
Force 4: Cheddar, after several days lying in the corner of the kitchen, in a plastic bag full of unwashed laundry, takes on this odour. Small children run from the room. Travelling companions politely edge away to the other end of the train seat.
Force 5:
A finely matured Roquefort or Stilton. Continental types uncork bottles of Burgundy and allow them to breath, mixing with the heady aroma. Perfect after a meal in Provence.
Force 6: Cheese gives way to the unmistakeable odour of freshly smoked kippers. Northumbrian fishermen break out the brown ale and ask for a little dishy. Small children dance for their daddies and sing for their mammies.
Force 7: The kippers have been left out too long, and have gone bad. Travelling companions no longer exist. I am alone, soaking my feet in Dettol. I feel the splendid existential alienation of solitude, and resolve to write on the subject. My first work of philosophy, Toe Jam and Nothingness, is rejected by publishers.
Force 8: Anaerobic fermentation sets in. Passers-by gag at fifty paces. The European Union passes an amendment instructing me to Pasteurize my feet.
Force 9: Mass hallucinations are caused by the unique chemical reactions between my toes. Hippie travellers seek me out as the next cool destination. I am included in the Lonely Planet guide as a “must-smell”. I set up a coffee shop with banana and cheese cake, latte and kipper sundaes, selling copies of Shantaram and The Kite Runner and organizing river rafting expeditions for forty USD per day.
Force 10: My feet are the incarnation of the god Shiva, legendary Hindu deity of destruction. Mountains crumble into the sea. Volcanoes erupt. Cities spontaneously ignite into conflagrations, their populations streaming in panicked masses over the plains. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Armageddon is here, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roam the blasted landscape with clothespegs on their noses, laying waste to humankind. Jehovah’s Witnesses look smug.
Next week: after eating food from street stalls for 48 hours straight, I invent the Sphincter Scale.

Smoke me a kipper

This is me on the summit of Stok Kangri. The GPS reading at the top said 6137m. That’s 20134 ft in old money. Before breakfast. Oh yes.

I’m back in Leh now and boring everyone stupid about what a great mountaineer I am. The only problem being that this is considered a “beginner’s” 6000m peak. Ahem.

My old mate the Dalai Lama’s in town this week. I’m still waiting for him to drop by and pay me back that fiver he owes me. Tight bastard.

Okay, I’m done now, time for a cup of tea.


This despatch from your intrepid, navel-gazing Existential Correspondent comes from Leh, northern India, an oasis of cultivated greenery amidst arid, starkly beautiful desert mountains, bringing to mind the flowering of the Human Soul in the, er, desert of, um, Eternity. Or something. [Insert favourite pretentious metaphor here.] In fact, Leh is pretty much plein de touristes francaises, donc je vais ecrire ce lettre en ca langue. Ah, L’Inde! Les oiseaux dans les arbres, les charmeurs des serpents! Les tourists qui penses de la vie profonde. Oh la la!… [That’s enough French – Ed.]

Since crossing the border at Wagah, I have been travelling from Punjab, through the state of Himachal Pradesh (from the Hindi Himachal = “Landslide”, and Pradesh = “blocking the bloody road again”) finally arriving in Ladakh. The Monsoon season led to mixed weather in Himachal, but I managed to get some sunshine as well as a proper drenching.
So, especially for you, dear Vicarious Existentialites, here are my Top Ten Purist Tips for Indian travel.
Top Ten Purist Tips for Indian Travel
1. Chill. You’ll get there eventually. Probably.
2. Buy everything anyone offers you. India is on average a reserved country, and nobody will want to talk to you*. If you are lucky enough to be offered some of the local handicrafts, make sure you jump at the opportunity. If necessary, offer two to three times as much as the asking price to secure the deal.
3. Don’t step in that stuff on the street. Walk around it. I’m serious.
4. If you go to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and you’re male, you have to wear something to cover your head (other than a hat). The helpful touts outside will sell you a fashionable bright orange Golden Temple souvenir headscarf. This will do for a turban: in fact, it will make you blend in completely with the locals and not look like a tourist at all.
5. Another tip if you’re at the Golden Temple: don’t repeat any of Anindyo Chakravarty’s Sardar jokes**. They don’t go down well. If you do inadvertently tell one, the hospital staff are very friendly, and you can use your headscarf as a temporary sling on the way there.
6. In India, people always want to help. Much of the time this is indeed very nice and helpful. However, you will find many people who (a) don’t speak much English and (b) assume they know what you want when in fact they’ve got it wrong. This can lead to, for example, running around a railway station like a headless chicken from place to place, carrying heavy luggage and getting sweaty and eventually thinking you’ve missed the train. Fortunately the train will leave late so you can actually get it.
7. Train journeys in India are fun. The doors are open and you can stand in the cool breeze and watch the buffaloes whizz by.
8. The Purist way to endure four days of Lau Sai is on a windswept hillside with inclement weather and no convenient rocks or bushes, and no toilet paper. However, an alternative way to endure Lau Sai is in a hotel room with an en suite bathroom, clutching your stomach, moaning and getting room service to bring you cups of tea.

9. If you are travelling by bus or jeep through Himachal Pradesh during the monsoon, the road will be blocked by landslides. Try not to get too upset or frustrated by this. Many people have an exaggerated sense of the size of rocks which can be shifted out of the way by hand. Attempting to help may be futile but also, well, at least you look like you’re trying to help. Sometimes the entire road will be obliterated and you must carry your luggage over the landslide to the other side where if you’re lucky, another bus will be waiting. Buses will take roads that no bus should take, blasted out of the side of a canyon by dynamite with no barrier between you and oblivion. Don’t look down over the precipice to the rushing, churning river below. Look at the scenery instead. It’s worth it.

10. If in doubt, have a cup of tea.

*On average. Do the maths: India has a billion people. Only a hundred million of them will be trying to get in your face at any one time. This means, on average, they are not bothering you at all, statistically speaking.
** For those of you who don’t know, Sardar is a Hindi word for a Punjabi Sikh, and Sardar jokes are to non-Punjabi Indians as Irish jokes are the the British.

A Brief History of the K2 Base Camp Trek – Part II

Day 4 We begin with clouds and showers, heading out of Askole through the muddy narrow streets, stared at by impassive locals. Soon enough though, the sun comes out and we are trekking in bright sunshine. The first day of the trek is long, but our energy is kept up by the generous spread of biscuits, tinned fish and dried fruit laid on for lunch. Unfortunately, two of the team have problems already. Darwin and Anthony struggle along the trail looking tired out, suffering from the dreaded Lau Sai. (This is a new Hokkien phrase in my vocabulary. I won’t translate it literally, but colloquially it means, er, tummy trouble. Lau Sai will be a recurrent feature and topic of conversation as we progress.) In other news: Chia decides to try and blend in with the locals by putting a towel on his head (see pic). Day 5 Another long day, but this one is very hot. The party spreads out over the course of several kilometers, the fast cheetah-like Timothy in front, laggards behind. We are shocked to discover that our trek masseuse, Lynn, is the first to actually require a massage. Fortunately the trek Jack-of-all-trades, universally known as “Uncle”, is able to provide one. Later on, rugged man-of-the-mountains Herbert tries to deliberately lure Chris and Moira onto the wrong track to save his embarrassment at having trekked up the donkey trail. Despite a strenuous detour involving crumbling rocks and a yawning chasm, we rejoin the main group and eventually all arrive safely at Paiyu, our third campsite.