Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Highs and lows of ski teaching

Last week it was a delightful group of Kenyans all learning how to ski and generally ski teaching was fun and happy. This week I’ve been plunged into Christmas week ‘cours collectifs’ and I’m grasping for the French, Dutch and German phrases for ‘get up yourself you lazy enfant, it’s the millionth time you’ve fallen over for no reason today’…

Jardin - 2 days ago.  Is raining now.

It’s amazing to see the differences in kids that, on the surface, are apparently the same. As soon as they click into (or spend ten minutes kicking) their skis, some kids grasp the simple skill behind skiing in a snowplough and some look like they are trying amateur breakdancing on ice. Beginner plus is apparently the worst group to teach because the parents think they can ski but actually they can’t. They really can’t.

Of course, this is now my job and it’s important that I do all I can to make sure these little skiers and ‘cours privé’ of the future have fun and learn something but for some, you can’t help but feel they don’t want to be there and are only there so their parents can go ski, especially the little German kid who has thrown up on the piste for the last 2-days.

Still, picking up the flotsam and jetson of my ski group after every other turn is good for fitness and given the diet that I’ve been eating (beer and pizza) since I got here in November, every kid I help to their feet negates a demi Becks in the Av.

To compound my worries of an expanding waistline and inept ski group, the whole of Holland, the UK and France appears to have arrived in Chatel in the last 2-days causing parking and traffic chaos. Someone recently mentioned to me that it wasn’t the French’s fault that they were rubbish drivers, it’s just not something that they do well and they are all crap. It’s just how it is. Well, you can lump the Dutch into that category as well and the majority of the English that have arrived here.

It hasn’t snowed here for a week, it’s raining at the moment but because they’ve seen a bit of snow, they drive at 2km/h everywhere and stop in random places. The main issue I suppose is that the village isn’t set up for this many people. Outside of the season, only 1200 people actually live here so parking is at a premium. Even the Sherpa supermarket has caught onto the fact that nipping in there to buy a chocolate bar doesn’t mean that you can park there all night while you get wasted in the bars of Chatel.

An exciting development this week will be that my mates from home arrive to spend New Year here with us. Tempted by the après ski, copious quantities of Jager and hot snowboard chicks (in limited supply but I haven’t told them this) Cheeko, Hughsey and Afghan Nick arrive tomorrow to smash it up in Chatel for a week.

As a prediction for the future, my guess will be the Beginner Plus group will be having to pick themselves up a little more than previously due to their instructor trying not to be sick like the German kid…

published here

Thursday, 23 December 2010

It's Christmas

And like turning on a light switch, all of a sudden there is a million people in Chatel, all clogging up the highstreet, parking everywhere and walking down the middle of the road. The shutters on hibernating chalets are being thrown open and there are finally people walking around the streets with skis on shoulders. Christmas has arrived.



The Chatel locals are lamenting the loss of the free vend pool table in the Avalanche Bar, which has now been replaced by seasonaires and the occasional tourist. The tourists tend to go to the other bars in town and it’s always interesting to see the looks that the tourists give to the locals as they high five everyone that they know in the bar (which is invariably most of those with seats at the bar and their own glass appearing to drink for free). You can see the tourists thinking ‘Who is that guy? How does he know everyone? Must live here – sooo lucky..’

The party nights have started at the L’Avalanche Bar and L’Escalier and Tuesdays through to Thursdays and on weekends, you can take you pick of live DJ’s Muff and Jason Shutt as well as resident local bands. The missus doesn’t start work in L’Escalier normally until about 5.30pm which means that by the time these nights start at about 10pm, I am completely wasted and have to go home. This isn’t a bad thing though considering I have to get up and go rid the world of bad skiing the following day.

Last week I was teaching a group of Kenyan students from Nairobi from an international school who were over learning how to ski. Considering some of them had never seen snow before and the lowest temperature that they have there is apparently 25 degrees, the -10 at the top of Morgins was something of a culture shock.

The weather here was really cold all last week, the lowest I saw was -14 going over the Pas de Morgins one morning but it’s warmed up considerably and snow is expected on or about Christmas day.

Of course, for many of the seasonaires, Christmas day is a work day and I know that my missus will be working flat out from now until early January. The most that we will manage is a romantic cheap champagne Christmas breakfast of some sort before we both go off to work…

Merry Christmas all.

published here and here

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Nursery slopes of skiing (and teaching)

In my last blog I was worrying that my skiing might not be good enough to impress my new ski school director but since I’m now in my shiny new ski school jacket and teaching all this week, I guess I am – either that or no-one else was available…


view from the nursery slopes

Both the Pre-la-Joux area of Chatel and the Follieuse lift in Morgins have been open for the last two weekends, providing some epic skiing on the opening day of the season, with 2 foot of fresh snow waiting to be skied out in the tree lines. This was basically our ‘training’ on the first Saturday mainly because I think everyone just wanted to go skiing and blow out the cobwebs prior to getting down to the more serious business of technique and teaching styles on subsequent days.

At the moment, I’m teaching a group of Kenyan kids and their two teachers from an international school in Nairobi, who are here to learn to ski. The kids are picking it up a lot faster than I would have expected and it was wonderful to see the look on the faces of them all as they came to the top of the lift in bright sunshine this morning and saw the Portes du Soleil, Dents du Midi and Mont Blanc in the distance.

I kind of half expected it but the rulebook for teaching kids is more or less thrown out of the window compared to the theory that we learnt as instructors. The kids are ambitious and we soon had them going higher and higher up the button lift.

I’m being shadowed this week (!) by another instructor, Ross Jackson, who I qualified with this summer in Saas-Fee. It’s been really useful to have him around to bounce ideas off of and I really appreciate having him around to ease myself into teaching. We are probably going to give him a group of his own tomorrow to make the class sizes smaller and more efficient. The only bad thing about Ross is that he makes his instructor jacket look really cool whereas I think I just look fat in mine.

It’s freezing cold here at the moment, about -7 on my drive to work (this is a real culture shock for the Kenyans) and it’s been like this for a little while now. The snow cannons are working overtime to make fresh snow in time for official openings later this week.

There has been a noticeable influx of seasonaires arriving into Chatel. I’ve been quite lucky that because I arrived in early November, myself and the missus are almost considered as locals and I can now sit in the corner of the Avalanche in Chatel with them and grumble about how the bar is too busy and the free pool table has gone. There are plenty of young and hopeful chalet girls turning up, as well as Chalet owners rushing about last minute to get everything done before the start of the season.

Winter starts here.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Healthcare Market Commentary and 2011 outlook

It’s been a while since the last DS Partners market commentary and I thought it would be useful before the Christmas party season starts to give a brief summary of the market this year and the outlook for 2011.

Over the course of this year, we have seen much change with a new coalition government and the uncertainty that that brought as well as the financial issues amongst some of the Eurozone members such as Greece and Ireland. Many feel that the Banks, despite the European stress testing that went on, still have on going liquidity issues and what funds they do have, they are not willing to lend to more risky projects and very much on their own terms.

We have also had the changes in structure of the CQC and yet another whole new way of regulating care homes and the loss of the star rating system – something which the market found very useful as a rating of quality. There has also been much consolidation in our sector with a number of smaller agents and other ancillary businesses being sold to competitors or closing down.

A lot of this uncertainty is leading to a market where the top end projects are attracting funding. These are the deals where the care homes are in effect ‘future-proofed’ with large room sizes and room for expansion. The type of operators that have this kind of budget to purchase these types of units normally can get used to the new normal funding levels of 70% or less and typically have a war chest of funds ready to buy in buyers’ market. Many operators have been waiting for such conditions for a number of years.

Smaller and individual operators are faring less well with the Banks as the Banks want to minimise their risk and will only lend again up to a maximum of 70% into this market and only on deal where the chance of success is very high. The paradox in this area of the market is that if you are an operator in this business cycle, why would you want to sell an income generating business? The deposit rates on offer at the Banks and relatively low price multiples mean that there is not much incentive to sell which is limiting the new stock coming on to sell.

In terms of an outlook for 2011, our prediction would be for more of the same in terms of lending conditions but with slow growth and the added complications of the timing of any Bank of England Base Rate rise. There is much uncertainty about how any potential rate rises will affect the wider economy, as I am sure that there are plenty of households and businesses that are only just managing to make ends meet while Base Rate is at 0.5%.

The other economic worry at the moment are the more fragile economies of the Eurozone with speculators and the bond markets taking increasing notice of public debt levels. Greece and Ireland won’t be the last economies to need a hand out from the ECB/IMF. You can read more about this in this article here.

This uncertainty in global markets gradually falls down to the risk analysts in the Banks and so I think that we can expect to see more of the same cautious lending through 2011 until there are real tangible signs of growth in the UK and the government’s cuts program starts to take effect.

This means more lending to safe projects at the new normal loan to value levels and the Banks still writing their own ticket in terms of interest rates and fees due to the limited competition in the market. We also feel that while we are still in this low interest rate environment, we will continue the cycle of limited stock coming to the market and limited Bank lending to only the good quality parts of this stock. This will explain why the same poorer quality stock is sitting on the books of some of the agents, metaphorically gathering dust.

Whilst a good broker can still have some influence on the loan to value and pricing of the deal, the importance now rests with a number of factors; firstly, the quality of the stock involved in the deal, the quality of the operator and how they have been running their business and lastly, the contribution coming into the deal from the buyer. Banks prefer cash coming into deals now instead of equity in other property, although if overall gearing is low and cash flow/profitability is strong then it can be look at in this way.

From all at David Stephen Partners, we wish you all a festive Christmas and wish you every success for your business in the New Year. If we can assist in any way with any business sale or finance project, we would be delighted to assist. Please visit our website at http://www.dspartners.co.uk/ for contact details and further information.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Things they don't tell you about winter in the alps and learning how to ski Swiss style.

It’s been a grey couple of weeks here in Chatel - not in terms of the atmosphere, it’s getting more lively by the day as more seasonaires arrive and locals return – but the weather has been snowing or about to snow for about 10-days straight now.



world's smallest pillow line


This isn’t a bad thing and is great news for getting the ski areas open early and for the season to come but the one sunny day that we did have was a real treat and myself and the missus made sure that we made the most of it by taking the dog on an epic walk, wading through snow up to our knees.

The snow normally comes overnight and I don’t mean the 3-inches of snow that has just ground the UK to a standstill but rather the sort of snow that takes a whacking great shovel just to dig to the car, in order to dig the car out so that you can start it. I keep forgetting to park the car on the road and not in the little parking area in front of our apartment and so when I wake up to go somewhere in the morning, I have to factor in an extra half an hour of snow-shovelling just to get the car to the road.

The thing that no one tells you about driving in winter conditions out here is that because the snowploughs plough all the snow to the side of the road, this snow mounts up and forms little walls so that if you want to stop or turn round, there is nowhere to do so – it’s like being in a giant scalextric track. I forgot my wallet the other day when I left home and ended up driving up and down the Route de Thonon just because there was a roundabout at each end and they were the only places I could turn round…

It’s especially difficult because I haven’t yet sorted winter tyres. I’ve seen in the various snow online forums the debates that rage on about whether you do or don’t need winter tyres. Having now been in cars with and without winter tyres and experienced proper winter conditions out here when the snow has caught out the local gritters and snow ploughs, I can say with confidence that if you are coming out here to do a season and are bringing your car, clear the moths out of your wallet and get them. They make the world of difference and potentially can get you out of some very nasty situations.

Yesterday, one of my bosses at the Morgins Ski and Snowboard School invited me for a day of skiing in Verbier. Of course, I jumped at the chance and it was a good chance to see some of the guys from the Warren Smith Ski Academy who trained me for my instructor exams, who have already started teaching there.

I hadn’t seen Rolf (my boss) ski before but I did notice the ‘Swiss Snowsports Pro’ Patente pin in his jacket and his skiing certainly lived up to this. It was about all I could do to keep up and by the end of the day my confidence in my own ability was more or less gone and my body was aching. The Swiss style of skiing is very distinct and different from the BASI style that I was hammering over the summer and it’s going to take me a little while to adapt to how these guys would like me to ski.

Verbier was lovely, although after the relative solitude of Chatel and Morgins, seemed like an urban sprawl. The conditions up high (only the top lifts and runs were open) were good with a solid base and fresh snow on top. Perfect for the fast carving that Rolf seems to like so much. It was a bluebird day and I’m glad that I had the sense to put on the SPF50 in the gloom of Chatel before we left.

Training with my ski school starts on Saturday with the ski director passing judgement on my abilities (or lack of after Verbier) and there is a private school coming up for group lessons on Sunday. The winter tyres are bring fitted to the smart car on Thursday so at least I’ll be able to get there to find out exactly how rubbish I am compared to the other instructors :)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Getting busier

When I arrived in Chatel, the village was fairly quiet, with only the local (mainly English) barflies hanging out at the Avalanche Bar waiting for the season to start.




Over the weekend though, there was a noticeable influx of cars with British number plates and new and different people. I guess I am one of them but because I was here two weeks ago, I am counting myself as a local.

I was having a beer the other night with my new best friend ‘Pi** Head Paul’ and although we are delighted that the punters are coming, it means that we don’t have the bar to ourselves anymore, at least not until May.

It’s snowed again and is apparently going to for the rest of the week. Speaking to my Ski School director Earnst earlier on today, it looks like the Morgins lifts might be open for some skiing this weekend.

I’ve spend most of the last week helping varnish the wood for the new deck at the Morgins Ski and Snowboard School. A new bar and terrace is going into their new building and we’ve still got a lot to do to finish everything off before the season starts.

My wife arrived in Chatel on Saturday after working her notice period at her job in the UK and is just looking to finalise some work out here for the winter. Perhaps we will be able to take some of the stress out of job searching by doing some skiing at the weekend.

x
 
published here

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

COMING AND GOING (BUT NOT IN THAT ORDER)

It’s been an interesting last month or two since I got back from Saas-Fee in mid-September and I seem to have spent the last two months preparing for this winter, catching up with people and tying up loose ends.



So on Monday morning at 5.10am it all finally came to a head and eased myself into a very full Smart car and headed to the Eurotunnel. I was taking a combination of myself and the Mrs B’s stuff but it was still interesting to reflect that the majority of the stuff that I cared about was contained in a ski bag, a boot bag, a Tesco bag for life and an archive box.

The hound was lording it having been given the special privilege of sitting in the passenger seat for this one journey and looking very pleased with his progress from his usual spot in the boot.

Because I had to do the inventory and formal handover for our apartment in Chatel in the daytime and would have arrived at night, I stayed over overnight in Dijon and met my friend Katie L for dinner. I met Katie in a French class that I took to prepare for this winter and she has taken it one step further and actually moved to France to take a University course in Dijon to get better at French. It wouldn’t be right to blog what we discussed but it sounds like she is having a great time and getting properly involved in the lifestyle albeit with a few cultural ‘issues’..

Another early start sees me hacking along the motorway to Geneva with only Autoroute FM for company. I think I’ve been in the car for a total of 10 hours and the single best song played was Huey Lewis and the News – The Power of Love (as in the ‘Back to the Future’ movies). They may actually have played other decent songs but this one stood out as it was as I got my first look at snow-capped mountains which caused an involuntary stupid grin to spread across my face.

I’m now moved into my apartment and a pleasant surprise is that it’s much bigger and nicer than expected. I’ve moved a few bits of furniture around and changed a few things to make it better and the hound is pacing about trying to settle in and find somewhere decent to sleep after his big walk to the Avalanche Bar and a bit more friend-making in the village (having a friendly sheepdog is very useful for meeting people)

I’ll be having a crack at my massive to-do list tomorrow and getting the remainder of the things that I need for the apartment, as well as going to see my new boss at the ski school in Morgins. Chatel looks beautiful surrounded by snow-capped mountains but it’s still very quiet with not much going on. There is a stack load of cardboard boxes that used to be full of ski boots and other stuff outside many of the ski shops so I guess everyone is building gradually up to the season.

x

published here

Monday, 25 October 2010

Even the Swiss get excited about new snow

So I'm now writing this winter for Natives as their snow and resort reporter for Chatel and Morgins, as well as providing similar blog content for the Dare2b Mountain Lounge website too.  I'm also in discussions with some guys who do video snow reports which might be a fun thing to do for the season.  Also, getting paid for all of this too....

Last week, my new boss Rolf from my The Morgins Ski and Snowboard School rang me to check my date of birth for some paperwork that he was doing. The conversation turned to general stuff and how he was coping with all of the preparations for the upcoming winter season (I'm heading out there quite early in about 2 weeks time so I am hoping that he'll need a load of ski tech work doing or some such).

He mentioned that the first snow of winter had arrived in Morgins and that everything had turned white.  At this point I said to Rolf, 'but hang on Rolf, you're Swiss, are you telling me that you get excited about the snow coming?' (Rolf is a greying father of two who has the look of a man who has seen it all)

'Yes' he said, 'I love it when it snows' and even though he's probably seen more snow than you can shake a stick at, the enthusiasm in his voice and the obvious big grin that I could hear down the phone line made me genuinely excited about the prospect of the coming season. 

I can't wait.

Published here and here

Monday, 20 September 2010

Job searching

I’m back in the UK now catching up with various domestic stuff. I’m on a bit of a deadline because I’ve got to be out in Switzerland at the start of December for my first season as a ski instructor.


the dog.  pleased to see me.


I’ve got a job with the Morgins Ski & Snowboard school in the Portes du Soleil which I’m really pleased about because it’s the one place that I’ve always wanted to work, ever since I fell in love with the place when I skied through it a few years back.

It seems that all the hard work that I put into my applications to ski schools was worth the effort. I was only applying to French speaking Swiss ski schools so I took the time to translate my covering letter into French, had a French and English version of my CV and attached a decent picture of me skiing to my emails.

In the end, I had five jobs to choose from in Grimentz, Crans Montana, Champery and Morgins. In the week after my gap course in Saas, I stayed in Switzerland and went along to four interviews, two of which were in French. I speak reasonable French but this was another level and I found myself a little out of my depth. I don’t think I’ll be putting ‘advanced French’ on my CV again...

published here

Monday, 6 September 2010

Post Saas blues

My next Fall Line blog will probably cover this but just from a news perspective, I am now officially a BASI 2 level ski instructor and will be hopefully coming to a resort in the Alps near you soon.

Myself and the missus left Saas Fee on Sunday (it was a real wrench leaving let me tell you) and I've got 3 interviews to go to with various ski schools over this coming week.  So far we have visited Crans Montana, Grimentz, Nendaz and plan to go to Verbier tomorrow.  Plans to go to the Swiss Portes du Soliel later this week.

I'm struggling to adapt to normal life after what was effectively like a 9-week stag do with an epic ski trip thrown in.  I'm not saying this lightly either, I've got my wife here with me and it's all a bit odd not doing exactly what I want all the time and not seeing the usual people who came to mean so much to me over this summer.

It's very strange and it's going to be even more weird I think when I get back to even more normal UK and the dog and all the trappings of domesticity.

x

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Officially a ski instructor

So I have finally got over the hangover from Friday night’s epic celebrations of 13 out of 14 of the gappies passing their BASI level 2 qualifications.



some ski instructors

I passed and, for those that plan to, we can now be let loose to teach real people on real mountains all over the world. I’d like to be able to tell you about the party we had to celebrate but I remember nothing of it until I woke up on the floor of the hotel lobby at 5.30am. I blame the altitude.

The final week of the BASI level 2 exam was a pressure cooker for some people and an opportunity for others to put into practice everything that they had learnt over the last nine weeks.

My fellow gappy Alex had a full on Cinderella story, being told that he had some serious issues with his skiing three days into the 2-week course. With the mountain being shut for a few days over, he had to develop his skiing to the level required in a very short time. I kind of knew that I had passed when I was assigned to help him and over an incredibly intense 3-hour ‘Dave private lesson’ we made the changes that he needed to make stick and he passed.

The trainers call you down the hill one by one to tell you your result and I was first down the hill to get the nod to whether I had passed or failed. I couldn’t get excited about my pass though until I heard how he had done. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was for him because, like me and only one or two other gappies, he actually plans to teach skiing in the alps and I know how much he wants to pass on his love of skiing to others.

We had an amusing night in the Alpen Bar one night of the BASI course when a few of us ranked all of the gappies in skiing ability terms. This then moved on to ranking all of the Warren Smith Academy coaches in order of ski ability too. It’s pretty hard to determine differences in ability between BASI level 3 and 4 instructors (even though there were some surprising outcomes) so we fairly quickly moved on to ranking the good looking women in Saas-Fee. Predictably, Lydia the barmaid in the Alpen Bar was the clear winner.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel in Martigny trying to plan a schedule for the three interviews that I have lined up this week with various Swiss Ski Schools. Most of these are going to want to know that I can speak French to a decent level because I said that I could – the fact that I’ve been in Swiss German speaking Saas for nine weeks has not been helpful to strong French language skills. They will also want to know that I can ski so I made a video of myself skiing on the last day of BASI that I can take with me to show them.

This is the last blog about the summer gap and I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time over the last nine weeks in Saas. It’s the sort of place that really gets under your skin and I just know that I will be back, probably to train for level 3 next summer. The Gap has been like a combination of an epic ski trip and a stag weekend, except that it keeps going and getting better week after week and your skiing gets really grooved. I know that I’ve made four or five mates that I’ll keep for life and I’ve met Olympians and World Cup skiers and snowboarders.

I don’t know if my blog has helped anyone who is thinking of doing a gap course but if there is any doubt, just do it – you won’t regret it.

published here

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

BASI level 2 starts

Our BASI level 2 exam has started and after much anticipation, we are finally into the last two weeks of the summer gap course in Saas-Fee.



a lonely scouse waits for his lost sheep

The main question that I am asking myself is have I done enough work so that my skiing up to the level required to become a qualified instructor.

I feel like I’ve certainly been putting the work in – I think I’ve skied almost every weekend and day off that we have had here and I normally skip the food break on the mountain in order to get a couple of extra runs in. I’m hoping that all of this extra ski time is going to pay off and judging by the feedback that I’m getting from Al, the BASI trainer who is with our group this week, I think (hope!) this extra work has paid off.

There are two groups and two trainers sent out by BASI. Our one is Al Okrafo-Smart, who is based in Val D’Isere and the other group has Andy Freshwater, an ex-GB racer who was at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998 (apparently he went through the same gate that Herman Maier went over in that famous crash). They have very different styles, with Andy’s group doing all sorts of weird stuff everywhere and our group focusing on the fundamentals of skiing and how this relates to performance stuff. It’s very interesting to have another different style of working after the two previous weeks of boot camp from the Warren Smith Academy coaches.

The BASI coaches are using video feedback in the same way that the Academy guys do except that there is a difference with the video runs that we are doing this time because they count. I get a very different feeling of pressure, thinking that this run has to be spot on because this is what I’ll be judged on. It’s pretty intense and you can feel the tension running through the gappies.

Al has been good enough to give us an idea of whether we are skiing at the required level to pass BASI 2 and there are different levels of work to do within our group. Some are skiing very close to the level and we know that one of the more talented skiers is beyond it. From a personal perspective, I know that my carving is at the right level and I’ve just got to show a little bit more agility in my short turns – no more Mr Smooth next week, I’m going to be chucking myself everywhere.

The mountain has been closed for a day or two here and there while yet more fresh snow dumps on the glacier. This is adding a bit more pressure on to those people with a lot to work on as they will only have a limited time to work on their weak areas. A bonus to this is that we have got all of the theory and some of the demo lesson work out of the way so we can mostly concentrate on performance skiing for the rest of the course.

I’m starting to feel sentimental about Saas, knowing that I’m going to be leaving it in just over a week. It feels a little bit like home to me after 8-weeks and anywhere else is going to seem really busy and brash compared to a village where you walk everywhere and have to dodge electric cars. Everyone here has made me feel really welcome and I’m not sure if that is just a Swiss thing or a Saas thing but I’ll certainly be sad to leave all of the new mates that I have made here.

For now though, it’s a big focus on the final week of the exam and then the final Friday night end of gap celebration.


published here

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The central dream and start of bootcamp

I sit writing this with an epic hangover because the gappies had a party last to let off some steam. I’m in desperate need of pizza, sky tv and my sofa at home.


some crap skiing not doing justice to an epic background


We were hammering the Jaeger because we are one week away from our BASI 2 exam which is a 2-week course and we only have five days of coaching left to get up to the level needed, and we still have to fit in the avalanche course which keeps getting put back because of bad weather.

Last week was mostly about the central theme, which means loads of snowploughing and fairly basic stuff – most of which is really difficult. Because at some point some of us are going to be teaching this to real people, our demos have to be spot on. I find it harder to ski at this sort of speed than the usual warp speed that I used to blast blues and reds on ski holidays.

This week brought a change of coaches and our group (imaginatively named ‘Group 1’) had Jordan Revah for 3 days. I’m not sure if he meant to boot camp us so much or whether that was the point of this week but I don’t think that I’ve hurt so much after skiing as I did this week.

The highlight for me of the week was the one-ski skiing. I don’t think that I’ve ever laughed so much on a piste before in my life – or fallen over so much. It’s a favourite exercise of a lot of the race camps here and some of the top racers make it look very easy. For me though, I discovered that my left leg is completely useless for anything but standing at the bar – it was an absolute revelation getting back on two skis afterwards; I felt so balanced and so totally in control of what I was doing. Jords looked surprised when I bear-hugged him in the lift queue as a thank you.

A few of us also gate-crashed a photo shoot that Warren Smith was doing for one of the magazines and got some amazing shots, one of which is this week’s picture. The location was just above one of the regular pistes with an amazing glacier backdrop in about 5cms of fresh snow. I’ve put them all up on my Facebook page and I’m now attaching the link to my applications that are going off to various ski schools around Switzerland to show them that I can actually ski.

It’s been a little tricky to actually write this as I’ve got a big burn on my finger from a P-Tex candle that decided to attach itself to me while I was doing a base repair on my Head Supershapes (which I have totally fallen in love with). I’m starting to get a bit weird about my skis and most nights I’m in the basement of the Dom Hotel with the other ski obsessive gappy Tim (he is an ex-racer though so it’s understandable for him). Tim has been quite entrepreneurial and is making a few quid servicing the skis of other gappies and academy clients on the Warren Smith courses.

We’ve got five more days of boot camp before our BASI 2 starts so it’s time to work hard and polish everything before the assessors get here.

The glacier has been closed for a day or two while the weather gods have dumped about a metre of fresh snow. I got up early on the first day that the lift was open and treated myself to an hour of fresh powder skiing. The Supershapes are not the best tool for shredding pow but now that the piste conditions have settled they are performing better than ever. The snow is amazing for August and should remain so now for the rest of the summer and into Autumn/Winter

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Work experience

From a personal perspective, it’s been a really interesting week on the summer gap course with the gappies shadowing the instructors from the Warren Smith Ski Academy as they taught their clients on the academy courses.

Scouse teaching in his own 'unique' style.


I was shadowing the semi-famous ‘Scouse’ aka Tom Lewis and it was amazing to see the change in the skiing levels of the academy clients over a week, just by changing some very simple things.

The academy week started with the usual ski-off to group the clients into different ability levels, various gappies were then assigned to the groups according to their strengths. The week then followed a set pattern which involved analysing the faults in the client’s skiing and improving their skills step-by-step to help them improve.

The first day we mainly worked on slow speed turns and projecting the hip down the fall line to initiate turns, which then progressed to work on stance width to provide a better base to ski from.

The following days were spent working on other areas such as how the clients held their arms as they skied, the importance of a good pole plant, control of speed by finishing off turns, some work with no ski poles and carving. This was all backed up by 2-video analysis sessions and it was really good to see how all of the work that we had done improved the client’s skiing from the first day compared to the last.

There was also an emphasis on us to look at the teaching style that was used by the various instructors and Scouse’s style was mainly of self discovery for the clients and lots of individual feedback. There was also a boot camp style feel to the way that he taught clients which obviously worked very well because the level of improvement across the group was massive.

The arrival of August has brought another change in the weather and we are starting to get regular snowfalls on the glacier. The freezing level has also dropped to about 3000 meters so the snow is bulletproof first thing in the morning and like winter in quality as the day goes on.

The pieces of my own skiing are now starting to come together and using my days off to work on various things up the mountain, I’ve now managed to get rid of my camp left hand pole plant. I feel like I’m fairly symmetrical now turning in either direction and I just need to get rid of the slightly split stance on short radius turns by carving the skis round together. I’m also completely inept at bumps and moguls and I need to fix that before BASI level 2 arrives.

The gappies are gearing up to be boot camped ourselves for the next 3-weeks as our levels need to be much better before the BASI trainers get here. This week we are revisiting the central theme of ski progression and doing some more personal performance.

 
(this blog never made it onto Fall Line as the web ed was away on hols and missed it)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

First aid and learning how to jump

Last week was frustrating as far as skiing is concerned...

We only managed three days on the mountain. We’ve been attending a 2-day first aid course run by the British Association of Ski Patrollers (BASP) which accounted for Tuesday and Wednesday and the glacier ski area was closed on Friday and Saturday due to rain and high temperatures.

The first aid course was very interesting and in terms of content and covered a huge amount of situations and technical detail. The course was split 50/50 between theory and practical scenarios outside. Passers by in Saas were highly amused by the gappies working out which casualties in a fake Tour de France crash to attend to first or giving CPR to a plastic dummy.

We’ve also had our detailed results through from the BASI 1 exam which gives a breakdown of the areas where we are strong and weak. My feedback largely reflects the areas that I know I need to work on such as bending and stretching to absorb pressure and also to only try and think of one thing at a time when I’m training so I don’t jam my brain up with technical thoughts.

The Friday that the glacier was closed meant that for the first time this summer we did dry land training in the basement sports hall of a local hotel. This involved lots of dynamic jumping from side to side to simulate a ski turn. The idea was to isolate the ankle and use it more to generate power and spring. I guess it was also a discovery exercise and I found that I was landing on my heels initially which points towards skiing too much in the back seat.

We videoed our first attempts and we found that many of the faults in our skiing could be traced back to something as simple as the way that we jumped. Our final efforts after two hours worth of work on balance, leg and core control were astounding to see on video. I’ve now taken to jumping in this style down the stairs of the hotel to keep my focus on this as I found it really useful.

My beautiful wife arrived on Thursday for a long weekend and she was certainly a sight for sore eyes. A month is the longest we’ve been apart since we met eight years ago! She seems to have brought with her a change in the weather because a cold wind is now coming up from the valley and it is raining more. There has been a dusting of fresh snow most days since the weekend, which is great as the glacier desperately needs it.

published here

Crashing the Daily Mail photoshoot

So we were skiing up the mountain and Warren was having a photoshoot for the Daily Mail Ski mag.

We crashed it and I got these photos;

So pleased with the results.  Proof to the world I can ski and I've got better since :)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

BASI level 1 complete

We’ve just completed our BASI level 1 assessment and 15 out of the 16 gappies passed the course and are now qualified ski instructors (but only in a non-mountain environment – the mountains will have to wait until we are BASI level 2).



saas fee glacier ski area

The BASI 1 qualification was assessed on a split basis between piste performance and being able to demonstrate all of the elements of the central theme from basic equipment familiarity, through snowplough and onto parallel turns. We also had to give an example lesson to our fellow gappies and I got straight running moving on to snowplough.
Our assessor was Becs who is a director at BASS in Morzine and we spent a very enjoyable week with her working on improving our skiing to the required level.

From a personal perspective, I got a lot out of the week improving aspects of balancing and taking time to settle over my skis before committing to the next turn.

The majority of the week seemed to be about balance and having had a day off (and massive hangover) on Saturday to reflect, I feel like I’ve got a lot more time and feel more settled when I’m skiing now. At the end of the course, the assessor and the students agreed on a course of areas to improve on with a view to having these areas dialled by the time we take the BASI level 2 course in five weeks.

The high pass rate was celebrated in true Saas style with beers and jagerbombs in the Alpen Bar just off the main square. There was a little bit of police dodging going on also as the night extended past 10pm to Metros and Poison nightclub. The ‘nights rest’ rule is taken seriously in Saas and any noise in the village after 10pm is punished by a fine of CHF200, not that this seems to apply to the Popcorn club which inevitably we end up in until 4am.

Some snow fell on the glacier last night and conditions were great for our day off. A few of us tried to take our ski instructor hats off and just have a blast about but it was difficult to forget all of the technical thoughts whilst skiing about and also analysing the recreational skiers technique.

Next up on the course is a few days of training, starting with work on carving tomorrow and then a 2-day first aid course


published here
x

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Video feedback and BASI 1 starts

It’s never nice seeing yourself on video but when it’s combined with your fellow aspiring instructors pointing out the faults of your run, it’s even worse.


questionable fashion choice speeding bullet


I had an idea in my head of how I looked when I skied but the reality is more that of a 1980s ski video. All I am missing is the neon one piece suit.

The Warren Smith course that I am on makes extensive use of video feedback on two weekday evening sessions and I can already see the progress that I’ve made in just one week. My skis are cutting across the fall line more and I’m making more use of my poles to set up short radius turns.

We started this week at a very slow pace – zero speed in actual fact. We spent a morning of trying to turn in a tight space with no speed, the idea being to bring the use of our hip projection into our skiing and rotation of the thighs, rather than just flicking the skis into skiddy turns. I can tell you that this was more difficult than it sounds.

This progressed into lots of work on short to medium radius turns, the emphasis being on carving the short turn and making dollar signs down the fall line. Personally, I’m working on a wider stance while turning, a stronger left pole plant and driving the skis out of the end of the turn and into the next one.

Towards the end of the week, we spent a day working on our medium/GS turns, which was a great day of carving great big trenches in the piste over and over again. My superior bulk compared to my fellow gappies seemed to help keep me settled when cranked right over, although some credit must go to my new Head Supershape Magnums, which absolutely love that kind of stuff.

The course that we are on is pretty relaxed, although at some points this week it did feel a bit like a boot camp but there are two things that are sacred – the morning warm up and post ski stretching. For me, the stretching is a revelation - day after day, I wake up with no stiffness as you would with a regular ski holiday. We stretch on the lawn outside the hotel (much to the amusement of Saas passers by) for about 20-30 minutes and we each have individual areas that we pay special attention to in order to improve our performance up top.

Our BASI 1 course starts this week and I’ve spent my day off trying to re-learn how to snowplough again


published here

Friday, 9 July 2010

It's been an intense start

When I arrived on this course, I thought that I could ski to a reasonably good level, spending parts of my winters hacking around red and blue runs at high speed.



saas fee ski area - where is everybody?

I used to be pretty proud that I had taught myself to ski but with the help of the coaches on the Warren Smith course, I’m already a much better skier with a better understanding of what is happening, why and where I was going wrong before.

The first day of skiing on the summer course started with a 7.30am (!) meet outside the hotel and a 45-minute ride up to the glacier on two gondolas and funicular that takes you up to 3500m.

Once you stumble out of the Allalin station, you are surrounded by a ring of 4000m+ peaks that tower above the ski area and the pisted plateau opens out before you.

There are four main pistes, taken up with young racers and ski teams on summer camps, as well as us gappies learning to ski all over again.

Over on the far side of the glacier there is a massive snowpark with various sized kickers and rails. This is where all the gangstas* on summer freestyle camps hang out who make up about half the traffic up top.

When you are up on the glacier, the altitude starts to be a problem when you step out of the funicular and climb the stairs to the lobby. It’s difficult to breathe at first and for the first few days performing at any kind of dynamic level is energy sapping (at least for me it is but then I counted playing cricket and drinking as ‘preparation’ for this course).
The other thing to watch out for at such altitudes is the sun. Already we’ve had a couple of guys on the course who didn’t bother with sun cream and are now sporting some seasonnaire style goggle tan lines after just one day - very amusing for the rest of us who are slapping on the 50+ SPF.

The intensity of the sun combined with altitude means we are drinking loads of water; personally I’m doing about two litres per day up there in a five-hour session.
It’s our mid-week day off today and I’ll be using the time to catch up on emails and resting in preparation for an increase in the intensity of our skiing for the rest of the week prior to the BASI Level 1 course next week.
*As christened by Woodsy – British freestyle skier who turned up today for the Saas-Fee ride competition next week who has been hanging out with us


published here

Monday, 5 July 2010

Gap course summer camp

I’m in Saas-Fee, Switzerland on the Warren Smith Ski Academy’s summer 9-week GAP ski instructor course.


Saas Fee in Summer

I’m here because I realised that I don’t really like what I do for a living very much and at 33-years old, there is a chance to change it so I can be on snow for a living.

The GAP course coaches you to the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) levels 1 and 2. Level 2 is more or less the base level that you need to have in order to instruct in various countries in Europe and it’s this qualification that I’m here to get.

So I’ve left everything on hold at home and believe me, it was a real wrench leaving behind the missus and the dog. They will both be out to visit at various points but the ‘am I doing the right thing?’ questions soon faded while lounging on the train watching the Swiss lakes and countryside roll by, with the prospect of weeks of intensive skiing to come.

The course itself is based on the Feegletscher glacier that you can ski on all summer and towers above Saas-Fee village. There are around 20kms of pistes to at a height of 3500m with a small network of 3 lifts, an extensive snowpark and a lot of international race teams also do their summer training on the glacier.

I chose the Warren Smith Course because I was impressed by the technical focus of the program and also on the basis of a phone conversation with Warren Smith himself. He seemed pleased that I was going for a full-on career change rather than just gapping. By all accounts he interviews personally everyone that is attending the course, I guess to ensure that the students are serious about it and not just there to party for 9-weeks (!).

I’m the first person from the course here in the resort as I thought I would be clever and get two-days worth of practice in before the course started on Sunday but the glacier doesn’t open until Saturday so I’ve been poking about Saas for a day or two, dodging the electric cars that are the only transport allowed in the village.

The course starts on Saturday and I’ll be updated this blog regularly. New life starts here...


published here

Monday, 28 June 2010

Under strength Bar wilt in the Heat to promotion candidates Hyde

The hottest day of the year so far welcomed Cheeko’s boys to the quaint Hatfield Hyde ground and it was clear from the start that much would depend on the toss on such a searing day.

Unfortunately, the skipper was scuppered by the use of the £1 coin to toss up (always tails for future reference Cheeks), the Hyde skipper won and Bar were promptly asked to field. The 4’s had arrived with a makeshift side, with a number of the 5th team regulars making their debut for Cheeko and the majority of the regular 4th team batsmen making up the numbers and fielding in the 3rd team. This was all prompted by lamentable availability at 1st XI level, with just 5 first team regulars available. This had an inevitable trampoline effect on availability and the 4th team batting line up just didn’t look strong enough to compete.

The strategy then had to be to try and bowl out Hyde for a low total and chase but they hadn’t been bowled out all season for less than 200 and this looked like a big ask. Rupert Pyrah was once again excellent, demonstrating good control with the new ball and really seems to have found a bowling groove in the last month. His economy is good and his bowling at this level is probably too good for the calibre of batting that he comes up against. Endless balls nip past the outside edge with no luck and it really is a very frustrating place to be behind the stumps seeing all of these close calls. One week the luck will go with him and he will get all 10.

As it was, the start of the show was Stavros Rogers who picked up 5 wickets in 2 spells, with a good spell of classic swing bowling. At the other end, Spencer Randon kept things tight and picked up 3 wickets for his afternoon’s work. The Doctor was expensive and largely ineffective and 5th team regular Brad Swaile showed that he is a star for the future with a good spell of serious heat, picking up a wicket.

Bar eventually bowled Hyde out for 197, their lowest total of the season and afterwards, the Hyde skipper conceded that Bar were the best bowling attack that they had faced all season. It was a manful effort to bowl and field so well in the heat but it too everything out of them. To give credit to Hyde’s batting line up, they have guys that turn up who only bat and that is the only thing that they want to do. The opener who very nearly batted through only batted and this could be the problem that faces Cheeko’s boys for the rest of the season. In a team of all rounders, there is always the incentive that you might get a bowl and so the focus just isn’t there on batting where players aren’t as precious about giving away their wicket as they could be. Hyde’s line up had 4 or 5 players who only batted and as a consequence, dominate teams with weak bowling. I feel that this is an area that Cheeko should be addressing in future team selections.

After an excellent tea, Bar’s batting effort was notable for Stavros Rogers’ excellent 54, dispatching the ball to all parts of the leg side boundary off some very dubious (read throwing) spin bowling. Bar eventually collapsed for 125 all out, with an excellent rearguard action by young Ricky Wood, who showed that he is certainly a batsmen of the future and in your scribes opinion, should concentrate on this area of his game as his specialism for the future.

Next week, the 4’s travel to Broxbourne and hope for better availability to arrest their alarming slide towards the bottom of the table.

This week’s report is my last this season as I am off to Switzerland for 9 weeks of training to become qualified as a ski instructor. Jellybean Taylor is likely to take over from me as match reporter and I am sure that he will do an excellent job. From a personal point of view, I know that I have let Cheeks down with the bat this season but I hope that I have made up for it with improved keeping performances. I sincerely wish everyone in the 4’s and also the rest of the teams at the club an excellent and successful season.

Dave Burrows

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Cheeko’s boys close but no cigars in sight

Cheeko’s 4th XI met at the school on an overcast and blustery day to take on fellow mid-table outfit Leverstock Green 3’s and a close match ended in a narrow defeat for The People’s Team. In truth, Bar never had enough runs on the board after being bowled out for 103 but ran the visitors close with, securing 8 points in the process.

The batting heart and spiritual leader of the 4’s, Andy Hughes, was trevor-trampolined up into the 3’s on Thursday night and with Steve Moore’s injury not healing in time, the batting line up looked light but with plenty of bowling at the skipper’s disposal. In hindsight, Cheeko may come to regret the decision to bat on Saturday but in truth, neither skipper knew what to do and it was a bit of a lottery as to how the wicket was going to play.

The two slowest scoring batsmen and the latest opening pair opened up for Bar, Burrows and Taylor who struggled early on with the bounce of Ali and the accuracy of May. It’s no coincidence that the lack of a settled opening pair this year is contributing to early collapses for the 4’s. Wickets started falling at regular intervals and there was little to write about down the order as the top score of the day was Doc Sharma with a quick fire 18. Once Ali and May had finished their long opening spells, the rest of the batting was prized out by the bowling of the youngster Sawyer. The young man had a suspicious action and our recommendation is that someone at Leverstock has a look at his action before he gets too much older or is playing cricket in leagues with proper umpires.

After an excellent lunch prepared by Mme Kennedy and some impromptu French lessons from Spencer Randon, Bar attempted the near impossible, to win the game defending only 103. There was some early success for Bar as Roy Rogers encouraged the slightly unfit Rance to snick one behind to ‘keeper Burrows. He was clearly unhappy with this decision and perhaps this had a bearing on his later decisions which had an effect on the outcome of the game. This brought Turner to the crease (who was a startling dead ringer for JellyBean Taylor) who was clearly Leverstock’s gun batsman. He scored 32 and was smashing the bowling to all parts but for some reason, couldn’t fathom the bowling of Rupert the Pirate. He was eventually bowled with a jaffa of an inswinger and there was a feeling within the Bar camp that they had little batting left.

This proved to be true with only 3 of the remaining batsmen scoring double figures. This set up a tense finish with Cheeko’s boys convinced that they had Ali caught behind from an excellent take from Randon’s bowling but the young man had the nerve to stand there and claim that he hadn’t hit it, while the villain of the piece, Rance, kept a straight face whilst he gave it not out. This caused much anger from the Bar boys and left a very sour taste in the mouth from what was otherwise a very enjoyable game.

Afterwards, the Leverstock captain came to apologise to Cheeko for the conduct of Vance and the reaction of the Leverstock players after the game was not one of a team that had just squeaked a narrow victory and 30 points. If ever there was an incentive to try and play a higher standard of cricket and get neutral umpires, this was it and the 4’s can only hope for the services of Breezy on other future occasions.

The 4’s next match is away at Hatfield Hyde and sees the return of Andy Hughes and hopefully Steve Moore.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Match report - 5 June - PBCC 4's vs Old Camdenians 2's

Captain fantastic saves the day

Having only played for Potters Bar for two seasons, I haven't really had an opportunity to see Cheeko's captaincy for what it was until the latter stages of Saturday's game against the Camdenians. One was wondering what all the fuss was about until the moment when single handedly, he took contol of the game from the visitors and never gave it back. That he didn't win the game with the decisive action that he took is down to the type of declaration cricket that we play and how it rewards teams who block out for draws.

Late on in the game at around the 40-over mark, it looked like Bar had let the game go despite posting an excellent 169 on a slow and low wicket, thanks largely to the 'Uzi'd up' Luke Watling. At this point the skipper started to pull the strings and with two men set back to counter the excellent straight hitting from the Camdenian's lower order, started to restrict the run rate and frustrate the visitors. This led to two wild hacks that were calmly caught in the deep by Roy Rogers and Cheeko himself, taking responsibility with bucket hands.

Cheeko forced this situation on the Camdenians after he had noticed his team becoming increasingly agitated at the assorted antics of the visitors. At a suitable juncture that your scribe cannot remember (but was no doubt a wicket from a dubious hack into the leg side) he calmly gathered his troops and told them to calm down and let the game come to them. This had a galvanising effect on the team and powered them to a 12-point draw result, with Camdenians falling 14-runs short with 2 wickets left.

He delivered his message with the gravitas of a field marshall, high on a hill overlooking his enemy, plotting their downfall. He runs games like an supersized Napolean, moving his troops around and pulling strings until he gets the desired results - that more games haven't been won under his stewardship of the 4th XI is more to do with opposition's desire to see us not get 30-points, something that I feel is becoming more prevalent in the league.

There was little to note of the Bar's batting effort apart from Luke Watling's second successive 50 in two weeks. Once again, at better than a run a ball, he smashed 64 and effectively saved the game for Bar. The progression that he has made as a cricketer over the last two years in excellent and he is becoming an important part of Cheeko's promotion push this year.

Napoleon's new favourite opening bowler with the old ball, 'Jellybean' Taylor, chipped in with figures of 11-overs 1-13 to get Camdenians well behind the rate and he was well supported by Roy Rogers, with a rare opportunity to bowl with the wind at his back (11ov 1-26). The run rates were very similar in both the Bar and visitors innings and it was down to the rest of the bowlers to keep the bowling tight and try and force a victory. Ishy Moore was effective but expensive in the context of the game but bowled the Camdenians gun Doshi with a jaffa and 'keeper Burrows snaffled an excellent one handed catch for his second (4ov 2-15).

Bar squandered numerous run out half-chances and there were a number of catches that could have gone to hand but didn't. In the end though, the squeeze that the skipper put on saved the game and kept Bar in the hunt for the top spots in the league. Only the future will tell how important the skipper’s calm effectiveness was but I have a feeling that the 12-points. Our thanks on Saturday also go to Ian Breeze who umpired the whole game from both ends in humid conditions.

There is no music video for your musical enjoyment this week but instead I bring you the trailer for the Swedish ‘Wallander’ feature length film. May I draw your attention to Nina Zanjani who is the hot brunette police chick. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo9PddzNH1Q

Next week, the 4th XI visit the Harpenden Dolphins for the rematch of yet another blockathon from last year.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Match Report - 22 May 2010 - PBCC 4s vs Letchworth 4's

If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, Fernando...

Before I delve into the post mortem of the latest adventures of the people’s team dear readers, I would like to take the time to describe to you the intense pleasure of the finest cricket tea that your humble scribe has ever had the pleasure of eating. I recently played at the Royal Household at Windsor Castle and I have to say that I thought that was the best tea that I had ever had until I wandered down the grassy knowl and into the warm bosom of John Erroll’s Mum’s cricket tea.

The tea was much hyped and John Erroll’s Mum’s teas initially did not differ greatly in terms of presentation from the standard (and also very excellent) Cheeko family provided teas but once the tin foil was pulled back on the cake section, the prospect of fielding was suddenly forgotten in a smorgasbord of sweet treats that made for some muffin top cricket trousers during the secondinnings.

The sandwiches were a good selection or various meat and vegetarian options on white and brown bread. I chose grated cheddar cheese and egg mayo, both on brown, which had the texture that only sandwiches that are made with care and love can be. I also dipped into some mini sausages (which were lightly spicy), succulent and juicy cherry tomatos. For desert, I noticed some home jam tarts and I have to confess that they were so good that I had six of them before attempting to keep wicket for the remainder of the afternoon. The tarts themselves had a crumbly cup that was just sufficient in texture to form a base for the sweet strawberry jam but sufficiently supple to melt in the mouth.

There were further cake options including some chocolate muffins and some excellent banana cake that I know Rupert the Pirate (you are not a pirate) was tucking into, which might explain the extra over he took to warm up. In many areas of life, hype and expectation rarely lives up to the actual event but I think that Johnny Erroll’s Mum is made of tougher stuff than that and the tea fully lived up to grand billing that it was afforded. This is to your credit Johnny Erroll’s Mum and I thank you for bringing 30 minutes of joy into our lives that offset the shocking negativity of the Letchworth run chase.

Set 270 to win on the small pitch in 55-overs should have been an easy task for the men of Letchworth given that what looked like a lethal green one was infact a slow flat deck offering little assistance to the bowlers except a bit of occasional bounce. Letchworth’s mind it seems, was made up for them by an opening bowling partnership of Duncan Taylor and Spencer Randon. With keeper Burrows up to the stumps and high quality bowling, the opposition found themselves at 20-overs with just 20 runs on the board. Bar flew through their overs and in no time, Letchworth were under the pump and batting for a draw from very early on. The key was to nurdle out their only two real batsmen, Hughes and Fernando, who scored 100 out of the teams, 165 eventual total.

The strange part about the whole day was that Letchworth had inserted Bar on a hot day on a green pitch, hoping to skittle us for a low score and then chase, as is their modus operandi, especially with Hughes who is way too good for division 9. Their return on their day’s efforts was a megre 4-points, 1 from bowling and 3 from getting to 166. There are clearly teams in our league who value not letting the opposition get 30-points over gaining batting points from themselves. Strange tactics from an ad-hoc Letchworth side but it may have suited the playing strength that they came with. No more needs to be mentioned of their run chase effort that was embarrassing in its execution.

A joy to behold however was Bar’s domination of the batting. The usual opening collapse left Andy Hughes at the crease looking down the barrel of a low score at 47-3. However, Andy Hughes led his now customary fightback and went on to take the easy singles and big hits on offer on his way to a sparkling 95. There was only one 6 in his innings, which goes to show how far Hughsey’s temperament has come in terms of batting time as well as just smashing it. He really is a class act at this level and his loafing singles are arrogant in their casualness. He holed out to long on after hitting a single down the ground a little too firmly and was truly gutted to miss out on his ton.

He was supported manfully by the highlights package that is the Doc Sharma who scored 36, mostly in boundaries, and there was a super cameo down the order by the baby faced assassin, Luke Watling who scored 55 in 8-overs. Spencer Randon scored a cheeky 29 and was the only man to hit a 6 onto the astroturf pitch.

Bar bowled well during Letchworth’s batting effort, with some extraordinarily good figures coming from the oppositions blockathon. The pick of the bowlers were the 2 spinners, Randon and Watling who were a pleasure to watch from behind the stumps and got 2 and 3-wickets respectively. If Bar can learn to hang on to a few more sharp catches, then we can start to convert these high point draws into 30 point victories.

The People’s team sit above mid table in a league where teams are all taking points from each other with a trip to the pretty North Enfield next week. This week I leave you with Abba’s ‘Fernando’ as a tribute to Letchworth’s Chopper Fernando and Cheeko’s string pulling captaincy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQsjAbZDx-4


Dave Burrows

Monday, 17 May 2010

Match Report - PBCC4 vs MPBCC2 - 15 May 10

Roy star of the show in PBCC 4s winning draw at The Feds

A fine day saw the second outing of Cheeko’s 4th XI 2010 campaign, having secured an easy win the week before when Elstree couldn’t raise a team.

Bar arrived at Met Police Bushey (henceforth known as ‘The Feds’) on a fine day and the general thinking was that we would have a bat if we won the toss as early season form suggested that The Feds had a pretty strong batting line up. Cheeko was surprised however when The Feds’ skipper won the toss and opted to field first.

The regular 4s opening partnership of Burrows and Errol was restored now that league football has finished but got off to a poor start when the horribly out of form Burrows cut straight to gully for just 5. The Feds tail was up when they also got Bar’s new number 3, Jellybean Taylor for a duck.

This brought the highlights package that is Andy Hughes to the wicket who batted well for his 19 with a couple of tremendous lofted extra cover drives and only 3 singles in his innings. He was gunned down by a terrible LBW decision but in fairness, he was plumb LBW to the first ball of that over and justice was served.

The brought the Hayden (Roy/Buck/Ginger/Pol )Rogers to the crease for what would turn out to be a spectacular and very nearly match winning innings, one of the best that your scribe has ever seen. He finished on 111 not out and was clever enough throughout his innings to ignore the hugely defensive fields that The Feds set, although in many cases, going over the top of men stationed on the boundary edge.

He was supported in his innings by John Errol, who was rather overshadowed but himself managed to get 60 before gifting a caught and bowled chance. It also looked as if Johnny was also going to get a ton at one point but he can be well satisfied with a 60 in his first game of the season and a partnership of 74 for the 4th wicket with Roy Rogers.
Other players contributed down the order, not least Cheeko and Rupert Pirate (you are not a pirate) who hung in to ensure that Pol Roger got his ton. I think the highlight of the innings was the contempt with which Roy treated the return of the opening bowler with the suspicious action which went 464414. The six was a flat batted swat that went into the sightscreen behind the bowler and was a joy to behold.

The bar finished their innings on 222-9, batting on past 200 wary of the smallish boundaries and fast outfield and went in to enjoy a rather excellent tea, the best this season so far.

Resuming after tea and one slice of fruitcake too many, Bar opened up with Herbie Fennell and the Pirate (you are not a pirate) and The Feds put on an agricultural 38 for their first wicket before the angry cop opener was trapped by an excellent Herbie back of the hand slower ball. Leslie Nielsen look-a-likely was next to go, run out by an amazing piece of work by Herbie again in the covers, who was calm under pressure and lobbed an easy catch to the Doctor to complete the run out. Dave Fennell really is an accomplished fielder and moves with the speed of a frightened gazelle coupled with the confidence of youth.

Wickets fell at regular intervals and the decision was clearly taken by The Feds not to bother with any points for the afternoon (the only managed 4) and to block out for a draw instead of going for 140+. Unfortunately, this is the type of cricket that our league format produces and until we move to a 40 or 50 over format, we are going to have these dull afternoons watching old men stonewall our attack. If a team doesn’t want to be bowled out then it’s going to be very difficult to do so despite the quality of our attack. I expect later on in the season, Cheeko might move to an insert and chase format to play to our strengths.

A note on the bowling. I serious think that we have one of the most potent attacks in the league and I am sure that we won’t come up against anyone as quick as Doc Sharma or Herbie this season. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to face the Doc on Saturday and I’m sure many league batsmen won’t. Rupert Pirate is the most unlucky bowler I've ever played with and the number of times he beats the outside edge and gets now reward is crazy. Duncan Taylor showed his bowling class with some impressive banana shapes being sent down and there is certainly a place for the Spenno’s leggies. The bowling figures are listed below for your reading pleasure;

R Ryrah 15ov 1-52
D Fennell 7ov 1-19
R Sharma 11ov 3-18
S Randon 7ov 1-20
D Taylor 5ov 1-1
I Moore 2ov 0-4

Finally, the song for the day was KRS One’s ‘Sound of da police’ which I have handily linked to here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VRZq3J0uz4


Dave Burrows

Friday, 14 May 2010

DSP Healthcare Market Commentary - May 2010

I read an interesting article on likely falls in commercial property this morning on Bloomberg which tied in nicely with something I was proposing to write on the outlook for the Healthcare market for the rest of the year. Here are some of my thoughts on the direction of things for the rest of 2011;

New government, new direction?

The proposed emergency budget isn’t going to be ready until mid-July but it already looks as if there are going to be drastic cuts all over the place to cope with the UK’s growing debt mountain. There are already noises about the proposed ring fence on the NHS budget being reversed (see here) as a combination of tax rises and spending cuts starts to take effect.

It is likely that the cuts in the already stretched Local Authority budgets will mean that there are less funds available generally and that this could mean even greater attempts will be made to keep service users in their own homes for longer so that funding for residential care places does not need to be made available. Pressure on budgets could also mean further outsourcing of clients who need more specialist care, into assisted living accommodation.

Likely VAT rise?

The general consensus would seem to be that VAT could go up to 20%, this being the quickest way for the new coalition to raise money. I think the timing of this rise is important as growth is still weak in the UK and any VAT rise is going to impact consumer spending from a wider economic perspective.

It will also affect the Healthcare industry as a rise in VAT is a direct cost that is not reclaimable as in other sectors. A 2.5% across the board rise in prices on non-staff costs of running a care home is significant and also a distraction, especially where some operators are under pressure on occupancy and standards.

Interest Rate Outlook

Given the current weak level of economic growth, most forecasters and data that I have read predict that rates will note start going up until the end of the year or possibly even q1 2011. When rates do go up, I anticipate that they will tick up slowly to balance a weak growth pattern. Some of the inflation figures that we have seen lately may cause the MPC cause for concern but I think they will let inflation spike rather than kill growth with rate raises.

This will also affect the availability of Healthcare stock coming to the market. Generally the homes that we are seeing come to the market at present are distressed or have issues. I don’t see this changing until those operators who wish to sell out can generate a decent rate of return on the capital they realise from the sale, so my view is that there will continue to be a shortage of care homes hitting the market.

Bank funding

Lastly, the lenders are as cautious as ever with regards to the type of propositions that they are lending on. Most are looking to restrict their loan to value to 70% maximum and are cautious lending to first time buyers.

In many ways, it looks as if a combination of unresolved capital reserve issues and a big swing to a more risk led approach from the lenders has meant that many deals that we have seen recently that would have been funded with no problem (and limited risk) in 2007/8, are now being declined or offered at a lower loan to value.

That is not to say that deals are not being done, we are seeing an increase in deals over this year but this is tempered with a more realistic approach from those doing the deals about the likely loan levels and interest rates that are available.


Of course, we are always delighted to speak through your funding requirements and if you have a proposal that you would like to discuss, please feel free to call on 0208 362 9700 or email me at david@dspartners.co.uk

David Burrows

David Burrows
Partner
David Stephen Partners

0208 362 9700 - t
0208 366 8931 - f
david@dspartners.co.uk - e
www.dspartners.co.uk - w

Friday, 19 March 2010

Blog Exchanges

So I was reading the Spectator website (my web reading list is pretty much The Spectator, a ski racing blog called Alpine Race Consulting and a financial website called Zero Hedge) and I came across this interesting article http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/5849178/the-cost-of-browns-propaganda-splurge.thtml that confirmed my thoughts about the constant Government advertising/propaganda that you hear during the ad breaks.

I posted something on the comment board and then this developed into an interesting exchange with a guy called Moraymint, who I know is a small business owner like me and someone who shares equally pessimistic views on the state of the economy and the UK future. His posts I thought were sufficiently interesting and well constructed to post on my blog (and yes I know that DangerDave is a crap name to post under);

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Moraymint
March 18th, 2010 6:50am

It is utterly obscene, isn't it?

How does he get away with it? Why does the mainstream media not run with this sort of story? Have we really reached Orwell's 1984?


DangerDave
March 18th, 2010 9:07am

Thank god you have posted this. I thought I was the only one that had noticed that almost every ad on LBC was a government one.

Sing this from the rooftops.



Moraymint
March 18th, 2010 11:29am

wrinkled weasel
March 18th, 2010 10:27am

"I want a revolution"

I know how you feel.

The problem is that those of us who understand the depth and scope of the truly unholy mess that is now British politics, our economy and our society remain in a distinct minority.

I'm convinced that most British citizens are really only vaguely aware that something could be wrong with this country. By and large, it's no big thing and everything should turn out alright in the end ... just give it a couple of years ... sort of thing.

As usual Wat Tyler is on the money; see his postcript to this blog post:

http://tinyurl.com/yjmfc6x

Here I go again. Most of our fellow citizens will not know what in hell has hit them about this time next year; in fact the hit could well come during the second half of 2010.

There really is a steam train coming down the tracks - the leading indicators are everywhere you look. Most folk ain't looking.


DangerDave
March 18th, 2010 12:54pm

@Moraymint

I entirely agree with your post and indeed more or less all of what you post on the speccie comments.

I sense a kindred spirit insofar as I think we both run small businesses that have been hugely affected by this monumental economic cock up and the endless public sector waste that we see all around us.

I also agree largely with your doom laden predictions of more to come. I certainly think that the markets haven't unwound fully yet and there is still a lot of toxic crap in the pipeline still to come out.

I'm trying to counter this by selling up over the summer and moving out of the UK but am concerned that I won't get out in time.

Could you expand more on what you see coming?


Moraymint
March 18th, 2010 3:05pm

@DangerDave

"Could you expand more on what you see coming"

At heart, I think what will emerge after the election is the extent to which our government and the whole of our political class will be unable to deliver the scale of cuts needed in state expenditure, at the speed required, without social unrest and/or the unwillingness of the bond markets to fund the UK's national debt at anything other than punitive rates.

Simultaneously, deleveraging (paying down debt) will be foist into every corner of our economy by banks unwilling/unable to lend - to credit card holders, to mortgage applicants, to businesses looking for working capital. The banks are basket cases and are desperately fighting for their own survival; lending is the last thing on their collective minds. Those banks that can lend are cherry-picking and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Energy costs, especially the cost of oil, will rise quickly as developing nations grow their economies faster than we're able to grow ours. As the pound continues to fall, our (largely imported) energy costs will be hit by a double-whammy. We've reached the end of mankind's era of cheap energy; the end of the industrial age; we've started the long descent.

There's more to be said, but I think we're in the lull before a perfect storm. The government has been able to defy economic gravity thus far, through judicious use of QE, misappropriation of taxpayers' money, propaganda and outright deceit. The UK economy is structurally flawed after 13 years of unopposed Marxism - and we are simply going to have to pay for it from here on in.

The house of cards will start to collapse from May onwards and I see nothing to make me think otherwise.

Look at it another way: is anyone seriously arguing that during 2010 we shall start to feel the reassuring push of acceleration in our backs as the UK economy flips into rapid and sustainable economic growth? Only the Treasury's forecasts make these sorts of predictions - and we know who writes those, and why.

Sorry it's a bit downbeat, but I'm a realist. Tout s'arrange, mais mal, as Lord Lawson would say.


Moraymint
March 18th, 2010 5:51pm

teledu ... yes, your post reinforces my view that since the Labour Party started spinning their way into power 15 years ago or so, we have witnessed an Orwellian transformation of our society.

The state we're in today was planned as such under the heading of the New Labour Project. The UK's very own brand of soft totalitarianism is now embedded in our national socio-economic structure and it will be terribly difficult to undo.

The state is everywhere: government departments, local government reliance on central government funds, quangos, private sector companies feeding off the state, multi-generational welfare claimants, government agencies, the bias of the BBC, students studying for government-funded non-qualifications, you name it.

Weaning millions and millions of British citizens off of state dependency will take a generation. I'm not sure the Tory Party is up to it and, even if they are, we keep coming back to social unrest.

Oh, the price we're going to pay for having either embraced Marxism or having allowed ourselves to be conned into accepting it. The result will be the same.


DangerDave
March 18th, 2010 10:34pm

@Moraymint

Thank you for taking the time to expand on your thoughts.

I hope for selfish reasons that you are wrong about the timings and that I can get out in time.

Certainly the government is delaying the inevitable, £200bn in QE this year pumped straight into government spending, and the largely unreported £4bn budget deficit in January (why this wasn't screamed from the rooftops I have no idea) It's just sad that the British people don't see the charade around them they are living in.

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I don't think that I really need to add any more to what's written here. I would just urge people to have a look to see what is really going on around them.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Buying a care home in administration - things to consider

It’s been a while since my last blog entry and I thought I would update by writing a short article on what seems to be an endless stream of care homes that are in administration that are hitting the market for sale. Whilst the buying a home in this situation may seem daunting, as long as you do your homework and have the right advice, it can be easier in many ways.


In many people’s view, it would be quite difficult for a care home to end up in this situation. At it’s most basic level, fee income comes in, expenses go out and the difference between the two is profit. Whilst in most cases this is true, a lot of the homes that we have seen that come to the market in administration are due to reasons that are nothing to do with the home itself. For example, we are dealing with a case at the moment where the operator had overstretched themselves with other projects and in a recent case we dealt with, it was unpaid taxes that cased the problem.


Whatever the reason, there are certainly some good opportunities to be had. Savills are selling an 88-registed care home in Yorkshire for £2.5m which in a better market and out of administration, would be worth significantly more. Additionally, you are dealing with a receiver and it is in their interest to keep the home running efficiently to secure the best sale price. They will be easier to deal with than many vendors and will give over what information they have to make the process as straightforward as possible.

When buying a care home that is in administration, here are a few important points to consider;


Establish the reason why


This is important if you are raising commercial funding on the purchase. Many lenders will be much more reassured if they know that the problems were nothing to do with the care home itself. If the problems are in connection with the care home, then an action plan can be created to solve the problems that caused the home to be in difficulty.


It should be noted however that the chances of raising funding on the home if the problems are to do with it are greatly diminished, unless you are an established operator with significant cash flow.


Surround yourself with professionals


When buying a care home out of an administrative receivership, it is not the time to cut costs on professional fees. Given the likely nature of cost cutting that may have occurred before the receivers were called in, there may be many pitfalls that await you through the purchase process. It is therefore a good time to get an experienced, healthcare specific commercial solicitor involved. The slight increase in fees over that of the small high street practice, will save you much time and money in the long run.


In fact, this is good advice for all healthcare purchases but more so for homes in administration. We are happy to recommend a small number of good firms (please contact us for details). A good broker is also essential unless you are an operator with a suite of bankers. You will need someone dedicated to drive the funding process through.


Act fast


This is probably the most important of all of the above factors and again this is good generic advice for any purchase but especially the case if the home is in administration. In most cases, there will be a bed block put in place by the CQC and due to the nature of the care home business, the passing of residents will mean that the goodwill of the business will diminish with each one.


If you are trying to raise commercial funding with a bank, the goodwill element will be critical to their

calculations of debt servicing and as such, it is important to drive the deal through as quickly as possible to secure the bank funding.


As an example, we are currently acting for a client buying a care home registered for 28 that is in administration. We were introduced to the deal 10-days ago and have already met with Banks and are awaiting the formal offer of funding. When choosing the lender that we wanted to do the deal, an equally important factor is the speed of which the bank can move, as well as the other usual factors of margin, loan to value etc.