Thanks to the President of China, I spent a day in January skiing at Les Houches near Mont Blanc. Xi Jinping was visiting my organization, and we were told to avoid coming to work if possible, as the security arrangements were extreme. Juras and Swiss Alps were forecast to have low temperatures, low visibility and strong wind, so I headed up towards Mont Blanc where it was sunny and no wind. The temperature was still low at about -10 degrees C.
Somewhat belatedly, a few photos from a quick trip to Australia in the New Year break 2016-2017 to visit my family in Noosa on the Queensland coast. Flying from the midwinter Geneva around zero C to heatwave in the middle of summer – middle 30s C and then back to a cold spell at -4 C. Around 35°C temperature drop from my last Saturday on Sunshine Beach to the first day in Geneva.
Even though it was hot, there were some stormy days and some dark clouds on Noosa Main Beach. It was much more crowded when the sun was out.
Yannick has combined parapente (paragliding) with alpine climbing and has a tandem harness. He told me he could arrange two more pilots and my boys and I could do a flight over Mont Salève, in neighbouring France near Geneva. The boys were very excited, my older boy had been lobbying for several years to do a parapente flight. And Yannick is very experienced and I know he does not take risks. So around the end of August, off we went. All three of us launched from the grassy slope on top of the Salève out over the cliffs. I cruised around the cliffs and above them. Saw the boys from time to time, though they ended up going up to around 1700 m altitude, much higher than me. Guess I am a bit heavier.
Below is a short 2:30 video of my flight. In the second half of this video, I flew the wing for a while, then Herve did some acrobatics before we landed back in Switzerland.
While in Australia in July, we hired a 4WD for a trip to Fraser Island, largest sand island in the world. From Noosa, it was a 50 km drive on Cooloola Beach to Rainbow Bay, then across to Fraser Island by barge to drive up 75 Mile Beach on the eastern side.
Back in 2011, I discovered that one of my great-great- great-grandfathers (on grandpa Baker’s side) Thomas Wilson (1817-1890) had been transported to Australia in 1835 as a convict. He and two others had committed a highway robbery.
Just recently, I came across convict records that gave more information and a description of him. He was aged 21, single, a Protestant who could read and write. He came from Kent, and was a skinner and poulterer. According to the convict records, he was 5 feet 4¾ inches tall, with ruddy and freckled complexion, brown hair and grey eyes, his eyebrows partially meeting. Among various marks and scars, he had (presumably tattooed) a sun, half moon, seven stars and a crucifix inside his lower left arm. At this point, I realized I was out of my depth, and called in the renowned symbologist, Professor Robert Langdon of Harvard, who told me that the sun, moon and seven stars were a set of symbols used by Freemasons and were also adopted by the Order of Oddfellows, founded in the eighteenth century. The Oddfellows modelled themselves on freemasons though were dedicated more to people of modest lifestyle, labourers and artisans. For the Oddfellows, the “sun, moon and stars” collectively might represent all God’s creation, all that is wonderful and admirable. The seven stars recalls The Pleaides constellation representing the “seven liberal arts”, and for a skinner and poulterer would probably translate to literacy and numeracy.
Langdon concluded that a literate 19 year old working class boy who was already a member of the Oddfellows and had a distinctive set of symbols tattooed on his arm was unlikely to have been a simple highway robber. Could he have deliberately set out on a course of action that would result in him being transported to NSW? Was there any significance that after he was given his ticket of leave, he bought substantial land holdings in the Manly area in 1853? Land now worth $300 million. And in 1869 became tenants of the “Mona Vale” property belonging to William Charles Wentworth, one of the three explorers who found the first route across the Blue Mountains in 1813. Was it significant that when he arrived in Australia in 1835, Wilson was first sent to Paramatta to work for William Lawson one of the other three explorers. Could it be another coincidence that Thomas Wilson sold his land in 1877, exactly one year before the foundation stone was laid for the first Oddfellows Hall at Manly.
Langdon immediately flew to Geneva and interviewed Mathers, seeking any evidence of Oddfellows involvement in his life. Mathers was surprised at the turn this research had taken, and unwilling to believe that the location of the Oddfellows Hall in Casino just half a block from where he lived as a child was anything more than coincidence. Or that one of father’s close colleagues was the Warden of the local Oddfellows Lodge. And why did the Lodge reach out and offer Mathers a scholarship as a teenager that enabled him to visit New Zealand. Why did they try to bend his interest in astronomy towards astrology and more occult concerns? Clearly Langdon would have to follow the leads in New Zealand to see what connections were found.
Discussions with Mathers also revealed that in the 1940s, his grandfather had applied considerable pressure on his mother to get her to visit two elderly women in Mosman, the granddaughers of Thomas Wilson. Why was it so important that this contact be made? Could the Oddfellows really have had a plan, a vision, reaching centuries ahead. And what could it possibly be?
I was cleaning up my photo files, and came across these photos from a trip in September 2012 to Les Ecrins, the southernmost part of the French alps, about 100 km south of Grenoble. There are a number of peaks over 4000m but our objective was to climb Mont Pelvoux, just below 4000m at 3946 m (12,946 ft). Bad weather in the Swiss Alps had led us to flee southwards looking for better weather. There was heavy rain all the way to Briancon, so we stayed down in the valley for the first night rather than climb to Refuge de Pelvoux in the rain. But that meant a big day the next day with a 2700 m climb to Pelvoux. We left at 3.30 am, amd climbed the 1200 m to Refuge de Pelvoux in about 3 hours, arriving just as the sun was rising. Continue reading