09 December 2016

More excitement in the dig

We knew our dig went, but we had some serious scaffolding to do. So we came back on a Sunday. Several people either pulled out or said they weren't sure they could make it; I travelled up with David and hoped for the best. We were early, and wandered a bit along the reservoir before ordering breakfast in the cafe. Soon Phil and Mick arrived; the former fighting fit, the latter not so much; he would go home after breakfast. Edwyn texted he couldn't make it. That made three!

We took some scaffolding from Miles' pile and went to the pitch. The men had one long pole while I had two shorter ones; I did struggle with that. But when Phil had dumped his he came back to take one off my hands. Nice! When we got down we found the bag one of the men had forgot there the previous day. I had been warned it contained perishable foodstuffs; I was advised to eat them today, so I carried it through.

We figured we needed two long ones for the entrance into the chamber; I started taking one through and manoeuvring it through the opening. Then David appeared who tried to make the opening a bit bigger. It's fine for me, but that doesn't mean it's fine for all! After that Phil appeared with the next one; we put that in position together. Then the difficult task of putting cross-bars in waited; we first measured how long they had to be. We had to cut them to size in the other chamber and lug them through.

Fixing the cross-bars was a challenge; putting the connectors on on the near side was fine, but for the far side I had to pretty much hover over a gaping hole, somehow bracing myself with my feet on the crumbling wall, while wrestling with uncollaborative connectors and trying not to dislodge anything onto Phil's head. But we managed! I then put some short bit in at the top, to stop stuff from sliding down and either hitting us on the head or blocking our exit. That felt good!

When that was done I went for a little scamper. I knew the chamber went up a fair bit but hadn't been. Maybe my timing was bad as my light was dying; I had given my normal light to the Yorkshire lot for maintenance, and was wearing my spare. That one doesn't manage long with a set of batteries! But I clambered up; massive chunks of ceiling had come down. I went all the way until I could vaguely make out the back wall. My dim light was a bit of a nuisance now! And my torch was in my bag, in the previous passage.

I came back and saw the men had added to our marvellous structure. I thought I'd go and have a tentative start at digging out the exit while the men removed rocks from high up that still could slide down into our exit. The passage was full of rubble but I made good progress, even though clearing a passage from the top is a bit tiresome. And once you were in there with your head and shoulders you didn't have a lot of room left to throw things behind you.

In the meantime time went close to our curfew. We mucked the exit out a bit bit more, and the men made plans for supporting the roof a bit, and making a safe passage, as the ceiling really isn't good in that chamber. But then we had to go! We crawled back to the start of the dig, had a cup of tea, and went out. It was sunny outside!

David and Phil having a little rest in the chamber

We reported back on the forum. Would we be back on Thursday? To me nothing else would make sense, but some people were getting a bit tired of the dig. But these never came up with valid alternatives, so we'd see! This project was very exciting; we might be able to get in to the passage with one more session. And Miles' dig hadn't received much attention lately. That needed to change too!

07 December 2016

Visit of the Yorkshire bunch

The PCG has just been; time for the YCC to visit! But to be more precise, it's not just the YCC, but also the NYMCC and the CMHS. Either way; the people I had been underground with during my year in York were coming up, and I was looking forward to it. I had offered some inspiration for trips as I now know of some more obscure venues these people far away probably don't. But my input would not be used!

I got to the hut on Saturday morning. I was greeted outside by Chris and Matt; the latter then invited me in for a cup of tea. The hut was full of more old friends, but also a fair amount of people I had not met before. It was filled to the brim!

The decision was made we would just go to good old Cwm. With this many people, they needed a big venue. Cwm fits the bill! And the men were interested in seeing our digs. With the YCC (and NYMCC and CMHS) I had done almost all my past digging. It had started, of course, with the likes of Lionel and Rick, but these were small projects, on which we only spent the occasional day. With the Yorkshire bunch we dug every week!

There was more faffing and tea, as there tends to be with this lot, and then we piled into some vehicles and drove to Tanygrisiau. I had never driven from that direction but all went well. I popped by Mick to get the key and then we could change and walk up.

We went in and headed for the Lost World. It took a while to get everybody down the pitch! Then I fist showed them the dig of Miles and me. Some people came out a bit pale. A death trap, they said! Such lack of appreciation.

When all who wanted to see it had seen it we went to the other dig; I knew this would be much more up the Yorkshire street. That dig is supported by scaffolding, and that's the Yorkshire way. They were impressed, this time! I had to stop one lady from coming through (it's not sufficiently secured yet) but not all were keen on the belly-crawl in. Then they had a look around, and we went back up.

From there we would do "the round trip", but not everybody understands that in the same way. Matt had an idea and I just went along with it. I still don't know my way around properly, but if I keep wandering I always end up somewhere I recognise rather soon. He sent us down the old vein incline, back up the steps (this is where I lost his concept of "round trip"), past the white waterfall, down 8 East, and over the hurdles. There I took the opportunity to go right instead of left; I never had! Very nice. I also grabbed the opportunity to have a chat in Welsh with one of the ladies I had not met before, who turned out to be from Bala. Nice! Later we went to the compressor chamber, and from there we would go a bit deeper in.

Pic in Cwm by Gary, with the lady from Bala in the foreground

I thought we might go down the bat cave. Some didn't like that! There is another way down; four went down right there, and the rest would go on, heading for ladders down. When I was down I went to the bottom of the ladders to see if I could catch them, but there was no sign of anyone. Nor on top! Nor in the main level. Oh dear. We decided to explore a bit. After a while we would go back to the compressor chamber; that would be a logical place to reconvene. But they would surely explore a bit first too, and we'd be bored going there directly.

I showed the men (I only had three men with me) some terrain we had explored about a year ago. We had not left any ropes in place, and we had none with us, so we could only get as far as we had ourselves the first time around. Oh well! Time to go back to the compressor chamber. But along the way we found a note. By the others! They had stopped waiting for us exactly four minutes ago. They would continue the round trip! But I'm not quite sure what they mean by that. I thought we'd just do something logical. We set off along Oakley floor DE, and came to what used to be the sump. I knew Miles had doen some serious restructuring there! I hadn't seen it like this. It was nice, you could just move up to Floor D without hassle and without getting wet. We were soon back at the old vein incline, and then the first chamber. We had got there first! The others might have taken a detour along Cwmorthing floor DE; that is a likely interpretation of the concept "round trip". We knew they intended to come up either on the back vein incline or the stairway. And indeed, we saw lights on the incline! Soon we were reunited.

 Writing in the guest book; pic by Gary

All together again, Matt remembered he wanted to do the Catwalk so we did. At the end we saw a Go Below group do the free-fall machine. Then it was time to get out! We walked down, changed, and got back to the hut. Time for another cup of tea! But the Yorshire folk would head for a curry, and I didn't want to, as that would make it a long day, and we had our dig again the next day. Starting early!

It was sad to say goodbye. I don't know if I'll still be there when they come back next! But I hope I will. But the next day they would do a mine they would most easily find themselves, and I wanted to move on with the dig. Yes I am addicted. So I gave and received a lot of nice Yorkshire hugs and then we all went our separate ways. See you again people!

05 December 2016

Five weeks? Five months!

When James resigned, it was clear he would leave some of his teaching. It needed to be done; it's the middle of the academic year! I had taught most of his teaching load before, and I was around; it sounded like that job had my name on it. I had already discussed the matter with the Head of School before James had left. He knew I was interested! And you're not likely to find someone else who is both willing to do it, and equally capable. I mean, it would be a five month job. Who would move to Wales for that? I'm already here!

The university seemed to agree. On November the first, I got an email from the Head of School, asking if I would be interested in a temporary lecturing job, taking over from James. I certainly would! But then nothing happened for quite a while.

With the end of my contract firmly in sight I did finally get the confirmation I would at least have a job until any contract replacing James would commence; on the 29th I heard from Sheffield. I am now working for a Yorkshire university again! Trip down memory lane.

Then, on the 30th, I suddenly got an email saying the teahcing job was sorted. I didn't even have to apply. There is this thing called the "re-deployment scheme" that they use for filling vacancies; I suppose they can just slot an employee at the end of their contract into an interim job like that.

As I write this I haven't seen (let alone signed) the contract yet, but I know it will be a Teaching & Scholarship Lectureship for 01/02/2017 to 30/06/2017. I will officially be a lecturer! That sounds very serious and senior. I'll have to get used to that.

And after June? We shall see! The university will have to decide whether they want to keep James' teaching in the long term. If they do, I will be in a good position to apply for that job! And if they don't, well, then the world is my oyster...

03 December 2016

New assignment: an improvement

The denouement came late. But it came! I have now seen what my students have made of my assignment. And I'm pleased! Of course there was a wide range in how well students had done, but this time few had done badly (there is always at least one) and quite a few who had done very well. What we ask students to do is first plot up a data set of modern foraminifera assemblages in several ways; the forams are from seven different environments, and the various plots might or might not show these as separate. Then we ask them some questions about foraminifera ecology and methods of environmental reconstruction using forams.  The acid test of this assignment is the question in which we ask the students to plot up a set of fossil foram assemblages too; do they fall into areas covered by a specific environment? If so, they are most likely from that environment. Palaeo-environment established, mission accomplished! The problem is a bit that not many students like to be robust doing this; typically, they use only one plot to base their conclusions on. 

 One of the plots the students are asked to make

Last year we had only one student who made all the plots and come to a robust answer, but this year almost 30% had done it. So I'm happy! And the use of MATLAB seemed not to have hindered them. I had made a little instruction video, and that was watched by half the students! Some of them had watched it five times. Making that file was a fortunate decision. I think the assignment has been future-proofed! Now let's hope I can teach it again next year...

02 December 2016

Five weeks of work

The last day of my employment at Bangor University was November the 30th. So am I unemployed now? No! On the 29th I finally received confirmation that I got 185 hours of work paid by Sheffield University, finishing up some unfinished business from the BRITICE project. The first task would be: sieve out the samples I collected from Nottingham. I already sorted I get to keep my desk, computer, log-in, key card, keys to the labs, etc etc. And I get to decide myself when I spend these 185 hours! I do look forward to only working the hours I get paid for. That hasn't happened to me since, eh, I suppose, the job as a coffee lady I had between finishing my MSc and starting my PhD! But of course, in this upcoming job, I will go into the office and do unpaid work anyway; I have my PGCertHE to finish, and there is always stuff to publish. So in practice, nothing at all may change!

And after these five weeks? Well, it is still not entirely clear what will happen with James' teaching. And as long as that is not known it is possible I will be hired to do it. It is, of course, also possible I won't, so I have started applying for other jobs. Stay tuned! No rut to be stuck in for me yet...

01 December 2016

Progress in the dig

It would be an interesting day. We could get through to the next passage in the dig! But there was the other dig, Miles' and mine, too; this one had two charges ready to go, and I thought I could set one off before everybody else was down. Some of the men take quite a while to negotiate the pitch. I don't want to blast while they are in their dig; the chance of it dislocating anything is minimal but well, one has better be cautious.

I scampered down, wired up the furthest charge, and set it off. It rather disappointingly went "flop". Oh dear! I think I know why; I had to drill at 90 degrees with the preferred direction as there wasn't enough space to wield the drill otherwise. That way I had drilled straight through the rock, and we had just then been running low on resin to seal the charges in, so the charge might just have dropped into a void underneath the actual rock. Oh dear!

I went back to the others to say I had done the detonation, but then several were still at the top of the pitch. I could set the other one off as well! So I had Phil warn the others and scampered back. The other charge had the desired effect! So I came out again and joined the others.

Time to have a look if we still thought it was a good idea to go through! We decided it was. But we didn't know what we would find, so we would have to be cautious. We decided to go in in pairs; if something goes wrong, you won't have to face that alone, while there would still be several people outside to help you out. We also brought a darren drum with emergency supplies through. One never knows!

David and Phil went first. When they came back they said you could go all the way through the level to the next chamber, but the entrance was blocked by loose rubble. Exciting but also a bit disheartening! But now it was my turn. Stupidly, I was the only person who had a camera with me, so I took pics all along the way. I got through and I saw that there was a fault in the ceiling, which had caused a lot of roof failure, which had lead to a lot of rubble on the floor. Not an easy place to work from! And the next chamber looked like a massive dig. Oh well!

 The entrance to the dig

When we were all out we were a bit at a loss. This looked like so much of a challenge it was difficult to see where to start! David and Phil decided to take a breaker bar in and have a rummage at the chamber, but that was a two person job, so I retired into my own dig.

I first tried to get rid of a rock we had previously tried to blow up but which had only cracked. I got the top off! But that meant the bottom was still very much in the way. Bugger! I then tried to remove a lot of mid-sized rubble from the working end of our dig. If  could get rid of it I may see further ahead! But it was uncomfortable. The space restrictions meant you had to prod at the rubble from an unpleasant angle with a way too heavy rod and bang your hands into things and be careful to not get rocks on your head. Made some good progress though! But after a while I figured I needed a tea break. That's nicer in company, so I went to the others.

I found Mick and Paul quite a way back. They said the others were attacking the rubble in the entrance to the chamber and were actually making good progress! That was exciting! They said they checked on them every half hour. I would do the next check. Bringing a camera! But first I had the desired cup of tea.

When I went in I saw the men had indeed made good progress. I stuck my head in; I could clamber into the chamber! I took lots of pictures so as to document the place well. I did not go exploring; the entrance wasn't secured yet and I didn not want to disturb anything. But I could see the passage to the next level! Exciting!

I went back in to the level, and then we all went back. We still eyed the first unsupported bit with suspicion; now we knew it went, we would have to do some more securing of this part of the dig too. Some rocks could still slide down! But that was for next week. Now we could go home triumphantly and inform those that had not been there! New ground, here we come!

29 November 2016

Saturday run

It's quite normal for me to go on a scamper in the weekend, but this week the weather was so nice it deserves a blogpost. I thought I'd go to Aberffraw, but this time run along the road to the shore, and then see how things felt. I had run in the dunes before but that wasn't an unadulterated success. These dunes have nasty grass!

I set off. I got a bit distracted by some gravelly country roads. The view from there on the countryside, the estuary of the river Ffraw, and the snowy mountains on the mainland was amazing. When I ran out of country roads I went on along the road to the coast. When I got there I realised I was very close to the very cute church Llangwyfan. I couldn't really not go and have a look! It was low tide. That matters; at high tide the church is on an island.

I decided to not immediately climb onto the bump that houses the church, but to walk around it. I was not alone! I heard canoodling sounds, and saw four legs dangle down from the sea wall. Then one set of legs suddenly grew a head, belonging to one of my students. Slightly weird! It got worse; he invited me to join the hug. I said I'd think about it... The exchange was all in good spirits, though.

I continued my way. I saw a small road go past the nearby race course. I knew about it, as my neighbour frequents it on his motorbikes, but I had never actually seen it. I knew that road wasn't connected to the one I came from by anything other than the main road, but well, what's a little running along the main road (which isn't all that main anyway) on a sunny day? So I did. Without trouble I got back to the village; I had done some 6 miles in the end. A nice little outing!

Nice views

Llangwyfan in the distance

Back in Aberffraw