Green Baron

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Full Circle?

When I first started blogging I was living in Perth and working on a Fly In / Fly Out (FIFO) roster at a mine. I never had a television in my room and when I wasn’t reading books I was writing things for my blog. It is something of a flashback now to be nearing the end of seven nights on site and writing my thoughts down from my room to the light of the single dull bulb on the cold aluminium walls. Not as though I’d never left though, in the almost three years since that time a lot has happened in my life.

Some things are quite familiar though. Eroc have the underground contract here at the moment, there are staff and miners here that I worked with both at Cannington and Telfer. One shift boss I worked with at Gympie as well, we have now worked together on four different mine sites. Not unusual in the Australian mining industry, but not too bad considering I’ve only worked on six Australian mines and one of those was only for a couple of weeks. Add to that that I’ve worked for three different employers across those four encounters, and he has worked for two. A small, small world.

The room is probably the best I’ve ever been allocated. It must be almost a metre wider than the others and has a shared ensuite with the chap next door. That would have to be better than the ablutions blocks at the end of the rows of dongers. One would think. On the first night though, my neighbour left the inside lock to my door shut and the emergency opener on my side was broken beyond my powers to fix with anything I could find in my backpack. It still is. It was then that I missed the ablutions blocks horribly, the nearest communal showers and toilets are past the mess hall beside the gym. I left a note on his door, he hasn’t done it since.

I’ve already managed to catch up on some reading and writing in the past six nights, as well as working some decently long hours. Last Thursday 16+ hours. It’s a good way to crank out bulk results, working no less than 12 hours a day. Not much good for the social life though.

I finally finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I think that’s the longest I’ve ever taken to read a book, 436 pages, including the afterword and readers guide, and I started it in January. That’s about 18 weeks. I met, dated and broke up with a girl in that time, and only covered a couple of chapters while I was at it.

I also have ‘When the Wind Blows’ by James Patterson out here. 468 pages and I started it about 24 hours ago. I’ve finished it now while still getting 6 hours sleep, a 12 hour shift, two meals and 500m in the pool in as well. It was a pretty pleasant read. Mum sent it through with a note suggesting someone should do biological experiments on kiteboarders. An interesting thought, I must see if I can find the note when I get back to Perth and read her exact wording now that I’ve read the book. I can certainly relate to a yearning to fly, and quite certainly hauling myself skywards from the lip of a wave with a giant kite gives quite a rush. I thought a fitting way to close my bit of creative writing practice back in a mine camp donger is to try and put it down again for those who haven’t read it too many times in the last three years scribblings. I think I am refining my perspective of boosting big air anyway, considering all the time I spent doing it in the season just gone, perhaps I can paint a different picture nowadays.

My favourite times are when the wind is solidly over 25 knots, closing in more on 30, and I’ve got my shortest board out to compensate for having out a slightly oversize kite. The shorter board helps me control the excess force the 10m kite is exerting on me, I can dig it in harder for more resistance. If I’m not careful with that kite in those winds I could accelerate out of control, start bearing off downwind and eventually crash from excess speed, it is so powerful.

I will kite at an open beach with waves rolling in, hopefully ones that form a nice big ramps for faces. Most of the time the wind is from the South, the beach is facing West, so I’m heading out from the beach left foot forward, my natural stance. I’ll come in on the starboard tack, get almost to the sand and check out what’s coming in behind me. If I time it right I can line up a wave out at the break that will be almost broken by the time I hit it. It’s more a matter of luck than management, unless you’re at a really consistently breaking beach in 30 knots, which is rare. If I get it right, I swoop the 10 down to port and wiggle it a bit to get some extra acceleration at the start. A small kite in strong winds compared to a big kite in moderate winds is like a KTM 950 compared to a 1982 Toyota Hilux. In between the broken waves the water is relatively flat and with the right line and trim I can work up some serious speed by the time I get to the breaking wave. No edging hard to control speed here, I need as much as possible. Then just before I hit the wave I edge hard to convert the kinetic energy into potential energy in the lever and springs that my board and legs become. As I hit it I turn the kite back sharply above my head and it generates extra force through the turn at the same time as its direction of pull changes to straight up. With the wave acting as a ramp I kick off the top of it and put every bit of energy available to me into propelling myself into the air.

I’ve done this a few times now, and occasionally get the timing so perfect that I boost into the air with acceleration I’m not familiar with. It feels like a normal boost, but when I get to the second stage of looking at the water after the first stage of checking where my kite ended up, I realize I’ve gone a whole lot higher than I thought. Several occasions stand out in my mind, once in Namibia (which I wrote about here at the time), and several times at Scarborough Beach, when I’ve become concerned about how high up I am. Well not how high up I am, but how far below me the water is. Landing these boosts isn’t as easy as it looks. Once you are not on the water you aren’t anchored against the wind and by the time 4 or 5 seconds passes you can be traveling at the same speed as it and dropping like a stone. From 10m in the air with a board on your feet this can be a bad thing. Many choose to kick their board out in front of them rather than try land if they are coming down too fast.

If you do it by the book though, the landing is as gentle as stepping off the bottom step of a staircase. When everything is under control the boost from start to finish is an experience in air that must be felt to be believed.

Well that wasn’t all that emotive, I didn’t feel the passion as I have in the past. Ahh well, another practice session at the nets. I don’t have anything left in me tonight, but I’ve got two and a half months left on site for more practice. Then a nice big holiday to stir the imagination.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The green baron

When I arrive at the Woodstock Road Delicatessen I scan the room for Baron Robert Pouget, looking for a suave dandy dressed in tweed, cords and a cravat.

Then out of the corner of my eye I notice a larger-than-life character clambering about in the window, erecting a new sign, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that, although he looks nothing like I'd expected, that this is my man.

And I'm right. He catches my eye, strides over and shakes me firmly by the hand, before inviting me for lunch next door.

But I want to see the Baron at home, in this veggie oasis he has created, and it's most likely to be the best place to figure out what makes him tick.

He's a robust character brimming with enthusiasm and anecdotes, and is hugely convivial into the bargain. He could charm the hind legs off a donkey and with plummier vowels than Boris Johnson, you'd expect to find him tucked away in some gentleman's club off Pall Mall, rather than sat in his flat cap among the tables of this, his latest business venture.

But ask why he has shunned the stereotypical hunting, shooting and fishing lifestyle and he raises an eyebrow, stares you straight in the eye and gently points out that's rather a clichéd vision of society and surely life's not really like that anymore. It was a gentle message but a firm one, and I immediately respect him for it and decide I like him even more.

advertisementBut then the Baron is the very antithesis of everything you would expect. Instead of being one of the establishment, animal welfare and sustainable food are what get him going. "It's all about sticking to your guns," he said without a whiff of irony. "The deli is vegetarian and where possible organic, and while some people say I'm losing sales by not selling salami, sometimes you just have to say 'no sorry'."

Judging by the regulars queueing at the counter for his wonderful array of healthy salads, sandwiches and soups, word has already got around that if you want to eat well with a conscience this is a good place to start, with students mingling happily with the yoga mums.

It helps that the 67-year-old already owns kitchens in Oxfordshire which produce food for his son William's Alpha Bar in the Covered Market, St Mary's Vaults and of course the secret ingredients for another new venture, the launch of Oxford Sauce, which has a wonderful spicy Worcester Sauce taste.

The Baron is also campaigning to have a healthy food van alongside the city's kebab vans to give our arteries a chance. Add the Oxford Cheese Company to his bow, and it doesn't take Houdini to work out that the Baron has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. Sweeney Todd eat your heart out.

His four sons were all raised with the same ethics and have, as a result, also chosen a more alternative way of life, William being the most obvious chip-off-the-old-block.

But however much the Baron has achieved, he still looks like he should be a judge or something in The City, so why food and why Oxford, especially as he lives in Cheltenham with his second wife and their 10 year old daughter.

"Cheltenham is a solid English middle-class place and will never budge, while Oxford is much more multi-racial. Cheltenham is a ghastly place actually, devoid of interest, while Oxford is so vibrant. I love it here. There really is nowhere else quite like it.

"And people know I'm not just out to make money, it's also about principals and a commitment to the veggie cause. Besides it's bloody hard to eat out at lunchtimes if you're a veggie or vegan sometimes."

And while the Baron is keen to discuss all things close to his heart, from overpopulation and the poverty trap to free range benefits and organic food, his conversation is riddled with some wonderfully risque stories. He may work and think hard, but boy he played hard too and would be the perfect person to sit next to at a dinner party.

As for the ethical tangent, he talks about a couple of life-changing books he read in the 60s predicting the demise of food thanks to mass producing and factory farming. "What's happening now was all prophesied, which got me thinking in ecological terms from an early age," he explains.

The Baron's first venture was called Veggie Heaven, and included setting a stall up in delicatessens throughout London selling great veggie produce and a good alternative to snack food - veggie sausage rolls and samosas when nut cutlets were the only alternative.

But Baron Robert was an immediate victim of his own success and just couldn't keep up with demand, going spectacularly broke in the process. "It was an absolute bloody disaster," he chuckled. "I went bankrupt and had to start all over again aged 40. And it really takes it out of you," he pauses for a moment. "I mean I laugh about it now but it was tragic. So then I slipped into cheese," he says modestly.

Once the Oxford Cheese Company was up-and-running Baron Robert changed tack and disappeared off to France to make documentaries. He's an entrepreneur and an ideas man but as soon as things get too cosy he's off, trying something else out.

"By 1989 business was doing well and I got a bit bored, so I went off to Paris until 1994 to make movies. It was tremendous fun but a financial drag because whatever I was making at home I was spending. So I decided I better concentrate on making money for a while and pull my socks up," he explains. Which brought him back to Oxford and the Woodstock Road Delicatessen.

And with plans to open a similar delicatessen in London, run along the same lines, the Baron still has plenty of ideas up his sleeve, although having been burnt once, he's keen not to make the same mistakes again. "We have got to be careful because the next step is crucial," he agrees.

"And while in the general scheme of things what we are doing here may seem a bit prissy, we are doing our bit. If we were just in it for the money we would have opened a fish and chip shop or something," he says chuckling again.

"The thing is, I'm as interested in making a movie or a documentary as I am about food and I have a lot of hobbies. I love painting and drawing, so I'm not quite as committed as I could be." I'm quite sure that everyone who knows him wouldn't have it any other way.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Green Baron

Green Baron is an unknown - a release in the I Micronauti line that never made it to the United States. Green Baron's role in the Micronaut hierarchy is also an unknown. He is obviously a baron, but is he good or evil? There is already an evil (presumably) emperor, a king, and another baron, which doesn't leave much room for career advancement. It is possible, due to the fact that the figures are almost identical except for coloring, that Green Baron and King Atlas (or Baron Karza for that matter) are enemies (or cohorts - we can only speculate). The imprint on Green Baron's back date him in 1977, but the instructions say 1978.

Except for the shape of his head and his coloration Green Baron looks exactly like Baron Karza. He has magnetic ball & socket joints in his arms, legs, and head, with the traditional rocket pack in back. The knees and elbows are held together by the usual one-degree-of-freedom joint. Green Baron is colored green (imagine that), with black highlights on his chest nubs, chest missiles, rocket pack cones, and sinister-looking eyes.

Green Baron has a the traditional rocket pack which is green, except for the upper cones, which are black. A single, black missile protrudes from the front of his midsection, which is fired from a lever which is hidden behind his rocket pack. Both of Green Baron's fists fire, activated from triggers on his forearms. Two extra fists are included, which is fortunate since they are easy to lose. Green Baron was released early enough to have the "unsafe," smaller missiles instead of the large rubber-tipped missiles, such as those included with Emperor.

Other than his coloring, Green Baron's head is really the only feature that sets him apart from the other Magno-powered Micronauts. He has triangular eye slits, which are black, and an almost fluted helmet crest - reminiscent of the ancient Greece-era helmets. There are some tiny differences, but for all intensive purposes, this is a green version of King Atlas's head.

Green Baron can become a centaur with the Pegasus figure by removing his legs and placing his torso in the cavity left by Pegasus's head. King Atlas was distributed in Italy by GiG. Green Baron was also released in Greece as Santana.

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