17 December 2018


As I had never been employed to teach more than one term in a row before, I had never bothered to go to graduation. I didn't feel involved! They didn't feel like my students. But now I am permanent and I decided my time had come. especially since my own dissertation student would get his diploma. I signed up! And that means indicating what sort of academic robes you will need. And that is rather confusing if you're not British (or of some other robe-loving nationality).

I had always wondered what they'd make me wear. The idea is that you wear the robe of the university where you got your highest academic qualification. And in my case, that would evidently be the Vrije Universiteit. But Dutch universities don't let people other than professors wear robes. So I can't wear a robe from a UK university as I didn't graduate there, and I can't wear a robe from a Dutch university as I graduated robelessly there. So now what? And I still don't know.

I rocked up to the 'robe chamber' in good time to see what would happen. And they gave me a nice blue robe! I have no idea what university this represents. Or maybe they bought it from a theatre company that had a play with a fictional one. Nobody else knew either! And they dressed me. Seems to be standard that they fit it on you! I'm not used to that. I also got a very fetching hat, of which I soon saw it was a standard Bangor University Doctor's hat. The Doctores don't wear the same hats as the Bachelors or Masters, of course. One is a class society or one isn't!

The robe room

Don't I look academic

I then went to the Council Chamber; a very pompous room where all robed staff members were gathering. We were together with Psychology, Geography and Computer Science. There were only three of us; the Head of School, another professor in marine biology and me. And then people from the other schools.

After a while we were asked to line up two by two in the corridor, with the bedel (clearly the same word as the Dutch pedel) at the head. We were a funny bunch! People were commenting on each other's gaudy gowns, and were taking selfies, and being generally silly. I ended up lined up with Chris, from Psychology, whom I knew from Welsh class. And after an eternity we started walking. And suddenly this giggly bunch turned solemn, or at least on the outside. I did feel a bit in two minds about the whole thing; on the one hand, all this bombast (the hall we proceeded through was pretty bombastic too) would clearly help make the day feel special for the graduates. But it also felt rather aloof. A bit like it was all meant to make us feel better than the rest. Which I don't like!

We walked into the room. I couldn't see any of our SOS candidates. We sat down on the stage; I was just behind the pro-VC who was leading the ceremony. (The VC had just gone on 'early retirement' only a few days before.) The organ was blasting.

The ceremony went underway. A poem was recited, harp was played, and then the actual candidates lined up and got their diploma one by one. And soon my own student Pete was called forward! He had struggled to get to this point but he had made it.

Later the PhD students had their turn. And our own Catriona appeared! Looking happy. And then soon after it was over and we: candidates, relatives and staff, were lead outside. There one could have one's picture taken if one so wanted. A lot of mortarboard hats were thrown in the air! But the disadvantage of graduating in December, and being the last batch of the day, is that photography is not helped by the levels of natural light.

I found Pete, and then later Catriona, and could finally congratulate them. But it was cold outside! And people didn't linger. So after a while I went back inside to give the gown back, and then walked back to my car. And this is supposed to be the first time of many I will do this! As a rule, all staff should really be there. And this was a very small graduation, but in summer I should be back, and then there should be many of us; both staff and new graduates!

Catriona the new doctor and me!

15 December 2018

Another Welsh course done

Doesn't time fly when you're having fun! It seems only yesterday I started the latest Welsh course. And now it's ended! It was nice while it lasted. And it almost went out with a bang! For the course we read a book; one or two chapters as homework each time. It was a story written by Tudur Owen, a comedian from around here, and it dealt with the true story of his dad having been convinced to change his farm into an improvised zoo for a while. It wasn't a very good idea! And the story was a bit embellished but the essence was true. And we knew that.

Elwyn confessed he had asked Tudur Owen to be there at the last course night. We could find out from him what exactly was true and what a bit exaggerated! But he had had to cancel at the last minute. A pity! It would have been a nice surprise.

Elwyn had talked to him, though, during the discussions had about him first being there and then not being there. And he could report on the veracity of several of the events in the book! So some of our curiosity was satisfied anyway.

And now? Well, in January there will be another course starting. It's just a bloke talking about local history! I look forward to that. I like history! And I still have a lot to learn.

14 December 2018

Another weekend of work

It's always good to try to get one batch of marking done before you get the next one! but when planning this semester I had not paid much attention and had accidentally put two deadlines on the same day. Not a good idea! But now I had to live with it. The first batch was a bit of a pain in the bum. It was an assignment on the field day we had had in October. We had gone to two sites and they had to write both sites up. Very many students wrote them up in one big blob! So you had to scroll through the entire document to find the bit you were currently marking. A pain! And quite a number of students had ignored the word limit. And I also had forgot to change the marking criteria from the year before. Bummer. And next year I want to do it all differently. But by the time Friday ended I still hadn't finished that batch, and it was only the next Friday that the next batch would come in! Oh dear. I better get a move on. So I marked over the weekend. At least I got the first batch done. But by that time it was so late I didn't want to start on the next batch. But let's hope that one goes faster! I may be marking again the weekend after if it doesn't....

Unrelated pictures of particularly nice pink morning light

13 December 2018

Not going underground with the Yorkies

Every December, the York Caving Club comes to North Wales. The first few times (2014, 2015, 2016) I managed to get out and go underground with them. But last year it didn't work out. My job has become more demanding! And last year I had planned to go have dinner with them on the Friday night and then see what their plans would be. But I had tried to contact them about what time and had failed. I'm not driving to Garreg without knowing it would be worth it! Maybe they would be in some unnamed pub or something. In the end I didn't go, and just worked that evening, and the rest of the weekend. And this year it got barely better.

I had loads of marking on! But I sometimes need some social contact, so I decided that this year, I would manage to see them on the Friday. So after work I drove down, made a bit of a hash of parking somewhere out of they way (it's a tiny hut with very restricted parking, and there would probably be million Yorkies attending) and then walked up in the pitch dark. I walked in and found early birds Matt, Gary and Toby. That was nice! Matt and Gary were working on a game of Scrabble. Very domestic!

Gary was already bored with the game so I stepped in. And while playing we caught up. It was nice to see them! Later two more chaps appeared, one of which (Chuck) I knew. And then later a bunch more: the two Johns, and Jerry and his wife Tegs, and a Scottish lady called Rachel. Now it was really full there! But it was good to see them. And they all wanted to know how the Thursdaynighters' Simon was.

Not too long after the last batch arrived I decided to go home. I was tired and had a long weekend ahead of me! But it was nice to see them. And I told Matt that if he and Gary ever want to come up without the others they are most welcome to my guest bedroom. His eyes lit up when I said that! I think they'll take the offer one day. Would be nice!

12 December 2018

Palaeoceanography talks

Last year, it had been quite a momentous part of the year. The student presentations in my Palaeoceanography module. This had been designed by James back in the day, and had been altered by me. The students are subdivided into six groups, and all six tackle an interesting climate event from the past 200 million years. They make a full hour (so actually 50 minutes) lecture about it and present it to their peers. The material is part of the exam material! The idea is that they hopefully know a lot about the topic they present themselves, and that they also learn from their peers. They only have to answer questions about two of the events, so even if four presentations aren't very good they can still be well-prepared.

As they need to know everything they need to know to get a perfect score on an exam question, I need to be razor sharp and notice anything they may either miss out or misrepresent. And I have to mark the presentation and time it. And notice who asks questions, as that is also one of the things their mark gets based on. The discussion afterwards is part of the scientific discourse! So I have to have the six topics in clear focus in my head. Last year I did the module the first time and had had to do some very extensive reading up to know it all. Ideally, I would have a powerpoint lecture ready myself, but when would I have time to make that? That's a pipe dream.

This year it started well. The first presentation, on Mesozoic Black Shales (riveting, I know), went well. The presenters were a bit ambiguous in their decision on whether these shales are so black because of production or preservation reasons, but otherwise they did very well. They should have been a bit more confident in their delivery; too much notes were used! But one can't have it all.

Then a group talked about the PETM (a very warm event, probably related to methane emissions, some 55 million years ago). I needed to step in and add to that presentation. And re-explain a few things that had gone wrong. I try so hard to weed out my students' misconceptions but it doesn't work all too well! And the same held for the third talk, about to what extent Drake Passage contributed to the glaciation of Antarctica.

The second day was a bit heavier. We had two student presentations, both which needed serious focussing and rectifications at the end. One was about to what extent the Himalayas had contributed to the glaciation of Antarctica, and the other about what Panama had to do with the glaciation of Greenland. Then there was the Friday seminar, about modelling if and how creatures get dispersed during events like the storm from earlier this year, which had destroyed the Holyhead Marina. It could be a good thing; creatures need to disperse, after all. But if it is invasive and harmful species that disperse it's not so much appreciated.

I chaired the seminar too. It was technically a talk in my colleague's series, but he had given the impression he didn't introduce his speakers anymore, and although he turned out to be willing to introduce this one he also had to liaise with Assembly Members earlier the day and wasn't sure if he would be back in time. So I introduced her, sat through her talk, and went back to immediately continue the student lectures. Quite many students hadn't come back after that! But that's their loss. The last talk, on the Messinian Salinity Crisis, was one of those where I didn't have a lot to add. My guess is that students will largely choose to answer questions about the first and last talk! We'll have to see. But this event is over now and I can go back to my marking!

 Artist's impression of the MSC, from Wikipedia. Made by Paubahi.

11 December 2018

Shaft in Parc

We would be back in Parc! The previous time, we had restored a ladderway; this time, we had our eye on an alternative route down. Around the corner from that ladderway, a shaft goes down. We had never done anything with it, but some time ago, David had decided he thought he knew where it went. And he wanted to know if you could get through!

If you go down the ladderway, you get to a sublevel. A bit further down there's a winze that ends in an ore chute. If you pop out there, and you walk some ten meters to the right, there is another ore chute, but it is clogged. Would that where that shaft goes? So we went in to have a look.

At the entrance, we first cleared the channel through which the mine drains. If we lower the water a bit it's easier to get in without overtopping your boots! And when that was done we went to the shaft. David rigged it and Edwyn got ready to drop it. David and Phil went down the ladderway to meet him on the other side. Paul and I stayed at the top. I had a cup of tea!

  Edwyn starting his way down

Deviation in place

Down he goes!

After a while we heard Edwyn mention the shaft was blocked with so much gunk it wasn't worth trying to dig. We figured that would be it.  But then some clanging and shouting and prodding followed and it was clear the men were giving it a go anyway. After a while I got bored and went down the ladderway myself. We had two ropes, but I was hesitant to go down the shaft, as it would be very difficult to do without kicking some small bits of rubble down, and even small bits hurt if they fall from height. 

I found Phil prodding the chute from below. David was looking on. It was all very interesting but I figured they may soon call it a day. As they had nicked the ladder at the bottom of the chute I had come from (I had to come down on the rope) it would be a bit of a faff to get back up. I figured they'd follow soon so I started my way up so as not to cause a queue. But I was being pessimistic! I made my way all the way up and was greeted still with clanging and shouting and prodding coming from the shaft. And then Paul said he heard voices come up the ladderway. OK! And the rope had gone slack. Edwyn must have managed to slither down the chute, and climb back up the ladders! So I descended a bit, removed the deviation, and then pulled the rope up. Day done! 

We went out again, and changed. It wasn't very late and I was glad. The day after would be a tiring day at work again!

10 December 2018

The first paint on the wall

Painting is generally the last thing you do! But there is a cupboard in the landing I had my eye on for a painting trial. Rose used it as a place to hang coats. I figured it was the wrong place for that, and I decided to use it as a traditional cupboard with shelves. Jitske very obligingly ripped out the rod from which the coat-hangers hung, and the hat shelf. Now what was left was a mint green recess! And I want to slowly rid the house of all the mint green that's currently there.

This cupboard was a good place to start; I intend the landing to be the first room to be finished, but of course it isn't finished until that cupboard is done. And it's a small-scale project; I can do that myself before the workmen come.

One day I filled up the holes with polyfilla, and then one drizzly Sunday I took up a brush for the first time. That green is fading! And one coat is clearly not enough, but with two coats I'm sure the painfulness of the original colour will have vanished. And then I should make shelves! Probably quite some work, but then I have a lovely cupboard. And then when plasterer and painter and stove installer have been (and I have put the radiator back, and the curtain rails, and have replaced the door) the place is done. I can't wait!

The first splashes of paint! 

No more mint green to be seen! It took three coats...