21 February 2018

Dig update

I'm running out of blogpost titles! Maybe I should keep this one as a general one. Although that makes it hard to find back specific events. Anyway; we were back in the dig again. We had a ready-drilled slab to deal with! And we also had quite a snazzy blasting wire we wanted to feed through the rubble. We had never really taken the time to put a blasting wire in a sensible place; we tended to just feed it through where we would go along ourselves. That's also the way we throw rocks down! So we kept damaging it. We had to stop that.

I was up first. The rock indeed was ready to be charged! And after doing that we did feed the wire down. That was more faff than I had imagined! It tends to coil and refuse to be fed through narrow passages. But we got it done. So then we could test it out! And it worked. It will now probably work fine for a very long time!

After the blast I went up to see what it had done. The slab was smaller but still quite big. I shoved it down the slab but left it there; maybe we should use a breaker to make it a bit smaller before we chuck it down. The two rocks behind it also needed some persuasion; one was wedged, but I managed to pry it loose. They are ready to come down! And then we can go and support the big slab! But not tonight; Miles had to be home fairly early and we needed to leave. To be continued...

20 February 2018

Having the house surveyed

My mortgage provider thinks the house (and the ground it stands on) are a fine security for my mortgage. I want to know a bit more about it! So I hired a surveyor myself. And he suggested he'd have a look at the house, and then at the end I would show up so he could show me things. That sounded fine!

I drove up on a sunny day. When I parked up I saw a bloke with a ladder. That must be Stephen, the Surveyor! And it was. He immediately showed me around. He said the inside was fine. No complaints! But he pointed out a few aspects of the outside that probably would need work in some decades time. The drystone walls that demarcate the garden were doing a bit of bulging and losing rocks. A wall needed painting. The extension had a few cracks in the wall and might need underpinning in the long run.

Things he didn't like at all were the garage roof. It's felt the tooth of time! And he didn't like the rendering on one side of the house. It sounded hollow, he said. It had to be replaced! Oh dear. He estimated that would be £2500-3000. Hm!

We then went in for a cup of tea with Rose. We discussed things a bit! She said she had had the other wall re-rendered not too long ago, and the guy who had done it didn't think the other wall needed attention too. She gave me his number. We also discussed the garden, and a guy who mows the lawn (Rose has a slightly dodgy back), and such things. And all the paperwork the solicitors throw at us. 

Stephen then left, and I chatted a bit more with Rose. I will have to think about that rendering! Maybe the surveyor is being overly cautious. And she told me the pub the house once was was called the Territorial Arms. I soon googled it: nothing! But it's nice to know.

I expect the report soon. Stephen will also report back to the estate agent and they probably will pass it on to the solicitor and the mortgage lender. We'll see! And I'll phone Gary the roofer...

Look at the 'sold' sign on the wall!

18 February 2018

Upcoming strike

I've never striked in my life! I only became a member of the union in Bangor. But now I am a member, and there is a strike coming up. An enormous big fat one! The unions don't like what the universities are doing with our pensions. I admit I haven't read upon the details, but it looks like they are indeed at peril. I was a bit too busy being grateful I had a job to start with to consider my pension too much! But then the union does that in my place, and you can't avoid it. Not that avoiding informing yourself on your pension is such a good thing to start with.

So will I strike? Will I strike the whole period? Will I just sit at home and secretly do the work anyway? I don't know! The problem is that it is the entire education sector that the unions want to put pressure on. And the only way through which I can do that is through putting pressure on the students. But it's nothing to do with them! It feels wrong to disadvantage them. But I can't really disadvantage anyone else.

So now what? I know that in the long run I am better off with a good pension, but it's difficult to now not focus on the short term. My options now are: strike. That means: missing lectures by my fellow teaching staff on Climate and Climate Change, missing meetings on changing teaching, miss a CV clinic for students I had promised, miss several student events where I am supposed to convince them all to fill out the National Student Survey (it's important in this country!), miss my own tutorial in the Communicating Science module, miss one or more meeting with my personal tutees, miss meetings with my dissertation student, miss a Board of Studies meeting, miss exam feedback sessions, miss a practical, miss Jeff's seminar, and God knows what else ends up being planned there in the meantime. It's not even so much as my Climate and Climate Change module will not have any contact hours by me in that period. Oh and I can't mark my students' essays either, of course! Or prepare for upcoming teaching. And upcoming other tasks (to do with Peer Guides, for instance). At least not then. The work will have to be done anyway. And it also means I lose half a monthly wage in a time that's the most expensive one I have ever lived through, what with the house and all. So I disappoint my students, get no money and end up with twice the work after the strike. Doesn't sound nice!

Or I turn scab. I can, of course. But having immersed myself in Welsh culture has made crystal clear that's not the done thing around here. Remember the big quarrymen's strikes! These are very far from forgotten around here. And the stigma of scab (bradwr, or cynffonnwr, in Welsh) is very alive. When I mentioned the strike to my Climate and Climate Change students they were not upset about teaching perhaps not taking place, but one student immediately pointed out I cannot turn scab. And especially when moving to Bethesda! Oh dear. What to do?

I can also do something in between; not go to work but secretly work at home. But working for no money with poor facilities and doused in shame doesn't sound too attractive either.

I think that's the problem with being academic staff. So open to exploitation as the idea of striking is so fraught with difficulties! Watch this space...

17 February 2018

Another Welsh book down!

I clearly don't have the same taste as my Welsh teacher. We had worked through a literature-themed chapter in Welsh class, and Elwyn had mentioned two books in particular: firstly, 'Un nos olau leuad', which was considered the best Welsh book ever. I find that quite believable! But he also advertised 'Fydd, Gobaith, Cariad', which he said was his personal favourite ever. Well worth the try! And it's quite thick (nearly 350 pages) so it would take a while.

I've finished it now, many months later. I'm not very impressed! I found the characters a bit one-dimensional. It deals with a socially awkward young man, and his bully brother. The former still lives at home at a fairly advanced age. And then his parents take his grandfather in; the chap is in poor health and they don't like the idea of him living in a care home.

You get this story line in parallel with another story line, a few years later, when the same young man is released from prison. He has nowhere to go to; his brother is still a bully and his parents have died in the meantime. He wanders to the cemetery where they are buried, and falls asleep there. In the morning he is found by the cemetery caretaker, who offers him temporary residence in the cemetery shed.

You then get the two stories leapfrogging each other. The author keeps it unmentioned until the very end why he was in prison in the first place, but the signs are there quite early on. I saw it coming from a mile away. And I didn't find the interactions with the guy and his brother, after the main character's release, very convincing. And his relationship with the caretaker goes a bit cartoonish too. The only named women are the guy's mother and sister-in-law, and they don't really come off the page either. Oh well! I have finished it now. And I have got some solid Welsh practice. I'm sure I can give the book to someone else in my class!

16 February 2018

Onto a mountain

The previous weekend hadn't really brought rest. It had been great to go up a mountain with the Cornish, but I had gone into the week without feeling I was ready for it. And I had kept running! By the time it was Saturday I was tired but still behind. I had lecture to prepare! And lots of paper work to do with the house. So on Saturday I did a quick run in the rain and then got down to business. But I got home at about four in the afternoon, feeling like the worst was over. So I was glad I had suggested to our American guest academic to go for a walk. He had admitted that he sometimes felt a bit alone during the weekends. His family are coming soon, but this weekend he would still be on his own! And there was something in it for me too of course; not only because I like a walk in the mountains, especially in good company, but it would also force me to not sit staring at a screen for a while.

I picked him up from home. We had coffee while looking at the map; I had thought up two different walks, depending on what Jeff felt like. He went for the one onto Mynydd Mawr. Nice! So we set off, and parked at the end of y Fron. Then we walked up past a small slate mine. I figured he should see one from close up! He's in Wales now.

The weather was a bit grey but otherwise OK. Soon we walked onto the path onto the mountain. When we got higher the views went more spectacular and the ground underfoot more frozen. Near the top it started to blow a hoolie. It was hard to take pictures! But the view was worth trying anyway. We decided to continue to the ridge above Drws-y-Coed. Some bits there were quiet, but near where we decided to turn around (above Rhyd Ddu) we were almost blown over. We didn't linger!

Slate quarry and Nantlle Ridge

Bucolic bliss (and slate)

 Me on top of Mynydd Mawr

View into Drws-y-Coed

 The path towards Rhyd Ddu from the top of Mynydd Mawr

Jeff mananges to not get blown away 

We had some coffee and tea at a quiet spot, and then legged it back over the top. Now we were facing the wind! So I had lots of tears in my eyes. But it got easier when we got further down. We had to turn around and sit out one hail storm as the hailstones in our eyes wasn't very nice.

When we got back to the car Jeff suggested going for lunch. I suggested the Anglesey Arms in Caernarfon. They did Sunday roast there! The most British thing we could eat. So we did! It was nice. And being very full I dropped Jeff back home. There was still enough Sunday left to do some chores! And go to bed early. I wanted to start the next week fresher than the last one...

15 February 2018

Back to the beach with the students

One of the first things I did when my previous contract started was going to the beach with Lynda to support students logging glacial sediments. The beach we visited, Lleiniog, has eroding sea cliffs that show amazing glacial and glacio-lacustrine and/or glaciofluvial sediments.

Like last year, we went there the day before, to delineate the specific profiles we wanted them to log. And like last year, it was awful weather. But like last year, the actual day it was nice!

The recce

I drove on my own; Lynda and Jeff, our American guest, came with the students. I hammered labels into the cliff face identifying the various sections. Then I fetched hardhats, trowels, rulers and clipboards for the students while Lynda did the initial spiel. The we were off!

One student was extremely interested in pretty much everything. Rocks, shells, plants, whatnot. That's great! And quite a few quite nicely went on with things. They appreciated the amazing sediments. We have tills and delta foresets and one thing that's probably and ice wedge. All of this was deposited by an ice stream, and a fast one at that, that filled the entire Irish Sea. It reached the shelf edge, hundreds of kilometers away. Imagine that! And there is black stuff in the crossbedding. It looks like charcoal, but where would you get that from at the depth of an ice age? It probably is coal from nearby coal seams. Very cool!

As it was on the day!

 The mainland in the distance
Students taking the long view

 Lynda does the debrief

No all students agreed; there are always a few that don't know what they're doing and not even want to know. Oh well! But the morning went fine!

For lunch we went back to Beaumaris. The cafe we used to have lunch in didn't exist anymore, but we found a nice tea room further on. It was really snug! And we warmed up a bit.

 Teh tea room we had lunch in

The afternoon group seemed to be a bit less engaged; they were more eager than the first batch to get things over with. But Lynda kept them well in check, even though her voice was faltering.

When she did her debrief, Jeff and I tried to recover the labels But they had been hammered in comprehensively, so that wasn't a sinecure! But Jeff managed even the hardest ones with good palaeolithic technology. And then we had the students dump their hardhats and other materials in my car, and we each went our way! A successful day. And then I had a few hours for lecture prep. The other modules don't wait!

14 February 2018

Dig and drill

It was an unusual night in the dig! We would get visitors, but like last time, we wouldn't. The Thursdaynighters would go in the direction of the dig to give Ed some SRT practice. But like the week before, he had to drop out! Oh dear. But it was a bit late to reschedule. The others would go anyway.

As I knew I would be getting back earlier I drove separately. It was awful weather! When I got to the parking lot I saw David's Landrover. He joined me in my car for comfort. He wasn't too positive about the night! He knew he only expected Jason, but he wasn't sure if he'd show up. I suggested he join us in the dig if it would be just him, but he suggested he'd go home then. Oh dear! Nobody likes the dig. But headlights appeared. Jason was here!

We changed. I did that in the back of my car. That required emptying it from my bicycle that was in there due to circumstances. We plonked it in the back of the Landrover! David and Jason changed in Jason's van. Then we walked up. It still was awful weather! And Jason and David had decided to go elsewhere.

David legged it up the hill. Then he stopped! It turned out he was trying to get ahead so far he could take a breather. Oh dear. That didn't work. He suggested I go ahead. I did! No need to linger in weather like this.

When I got to the Dig I found a slightly confused Miles. He expected throngs! Not just me. But that was what he had to make do with. And that worked!

I decided to first have a look in the 'old' part of the dig, to see if there was some scaff there. There was! One pole and whatever was needed to fix it in position. Success!

When I got up the the actual dig I expected to start measuring how long the pole would have to be but had forgot about the barn-doorish slab in the way. We had to sort that first! I retrieved the drill from Miles, slithered past the slab, sat on top of it, and started drilling. The first hole didn't work. The second was OK! And the third too. But then I tried to fill them and found out they were too shallow. But I couldn't fit the longer drill bit plus drill on top. Oh dear! Miles had come up, and wondered what the state of things was, when the rocks I sat on started shifting down. Oh dear. Now the drill bit was jammed! Not the first time we jam a bit. I didn't manage to release it, but then Miles gave it a try. He was more successful! Not only did he get the bit back, but he managed to lay the slab flat, so we could easily drill the holes a bit deeper.

By that time it was almost time to go home. We'd started a bit late, after all! And we'll sort that slab out next time.

When we came out it was dry. Very nice! So we duly put the bike back into the car as I could happily change outside. On the way back I drove past 'my' house as I wanted to know how high the river would get on a day like this. And it wasn't noticeably higher than the previous time. Good!

I was still home not too much after 11PM. The guys wouldn't be back at the cars before midnight! I was glad I had been digging...