29 May 2013

Last trip with the PCG

The Plymouth Caving Club has been instrumental in making me feel at home in Plymouth. I was looking for some activity to engage in. And, of course, I was also in need of friends. And when Rob inadvertently drew my attention to the activity of caving, which I had until then never really heard of, my life took a fortuitous turn. I googled "caving" and "Plymouth", and the rest is history. The PCG has given me much: an introduction into an amazing pastime, and from that introduction a long way into almost veteranhood. And a path to both the Cornish mine explorers and cave rescue. And friends I wouldn't otherwise have made! Except Rupert, who works part-time at the university, but I wouldn't have met the others.

But all good things come to an end. I checked the trip diary, and saw that in my last weekend, there would be a trip to Wheel Fanny. One of my favourites! I decided that would be my grand finale. I would still be in town the Tuesday after, but I had bad experiences with Tuesday trips in stressful times. One tends to end up in bed too late, and I need my sleep! And that week I would need to be in fine shape to drive the 500km to York without problems. And a proper Sunday trip would be a worthy last adventure.

Only a few months ago we had done Wheel Fanny further than I'd ever been. Richard had found a shaft that time, but not told anybody until we were out again. Dave was keen to see it for himself! And so was I. And with a small group we set off.

The group was a bit different than I had hoped: I was glad Dave was there, and Rick; these are two dear friends with whom I have done most of my best trips. And there were two splendid chaps I mainly know from cave rescue: Brian and Rich. And then there was a chap who takes thinking "what can the club do for me?" rather than "what can I do for the club?" a bit too far; that hasn't made him very popular, neither with the club nor, especially, with me. (Maybe because I'm not a conflict-avoiding Brit.) But more importantly: there was a Lionel-shaped void in our midst! He hadn't managed to borrow rope kit for his girlfriend, and he had recognized the day as a possible one for painting the house. So he had withdrawn! Fortunately, he has something to do in York in a few weeks' time, so I hope to see him again there.

We went down the main pitch. This is something I could do over and over again; it's a beautiful drop through the main lode. And then we went down the next pitch; still surrounded by, allegedly, the best timbering in the country. Then there is a walk through the bottom of the lode, and a clamber back up a level. There I stood for a while, first with my light on, and then with it off. From where I was standing you had an amazing view that illustrated the immense scale of the lode. And behind me were Dave and Rich; Dave was, as usual, taking pictures using slave flash photography. I could see the flashes through gaps between the woodwork. It was a magical sight! But after a while I turned around and followed the others, who were rigging the next small pitches. These were rather straightforward and could also be done without rope, but we were being safe.

Lots of dripstone dangling from the ceiling

When we were on the other side of these obstacles we were back in the main lode. This is as far as we had come the previous time.We had a rummage around. We didn't have any drill battery power or rope left to explore the drop at the end. And we saw a level going off above our heads, but there was no way of getting there, with the kit we had with us. So we went back!

Rick dived into a side level we hadn't explored yet. And found the shaft! It was one massive gaping one. One couldn't look into it too well without risking falling in. But it was a great sight! If they ever drill and drop it I probably won't be there. But it was great to see it!

An almost Wheel Jane-red puddle

You can't blog about Wheel Fanny without showing some timbering. Notice the pain can on the right!

I was the last to leave the shaft. So I de-rigged the hole you had to cross to get there. And then I came to the previous hole we had had to cross; it was rigged! Why not go down it too? I got into the rope and had a look. I ended up on a slope of loose stuff, at the bottom of which was a wooden floor with a ladder on it. And the space was wider than the floor! I wanted to see what was below it too. I soon saw it wasn't much, and in having a look, the rope rubbed along the loose stuff, and dumped lots of it on my head. I decided to get out of there. Dave took some pictures of me while I came up. It wasn't spectacular down there, but it was uncharted territory, as far as I knew!

 Me coming up from the uncharted hole. Pic by Dave

Then it was time to climb out. Having explored that hole I was last. So I de-rigged the whole place! Which I like. This time I liked it less than normal: there was a lot of Ali-rigging going on. (Ali being the consumerist caver.) As an example: there was a bolt in an irregular wall, covered in snottites. And for those who are unfamiliar with them: these drip acid, so you don't want to look at them from below. The bolt was at ~2 m height... How daft a place is that. But I managed to get all the bolts out without issues. Brian suggested they let me de-rig as a gesture, to mark my departure. Probably not true, but I liked the symbolism!

 A stalactite covered in fluffy fungus

Brian and Rich posing heroically

When we got out we rinsed our stuff in the stream, and then we went to the pub. For a last beverage with these men... snifs! And then I hugged Rich, Rick and Brian when they left, and I hugged Dave when he delivered me home, and that way my "normal" membership of the PCG came to an end. I hope I'll see them again on trips away; North Wales, for instance, is closer to York than it is to  Plymouth!

I already have the York Caving Club lined up to take over. I hope they will do as spiffing a job!And the PCG is not forgotten. Thanks all! It has been great!

28 May 2013

Packing gets serious

Two weeks ago I reported that the packing had started. Surely, things must have moved on since! But they hadn't. Instead I had my last Tuesday trip, fell ill, recovered, applied for a job, went to York, found a place to stay, came back, wasted an evening on a cave rescue call-out, recovered by pottering around in Jon's garden, had my last Cornish mining trip, stayed at work late, looked for more jobs (my contract runs out in September 2014 - time for action), arranged all these things one needs to arrange on the eve of moving house, wrote a conference abstract, worked on a manuscript, and said goodbye to my colleagues. But I hardly packed a thing. But it was time to change that, so the day after my goodbye do I got cracking. The day before, friend and colleague Hoayda had offered to help. So I suggested she'd come on Saturday afternoon, for some packing and then dinner. She agreed!

I started in the morning. I tried to empty my big bedroom cupboard. And I took all my outdoor kit (and some other stuff) from by landing cupboard. And I brought some more stuff to the charity shop. By the time Hoayda came, a lot was done. I figured I'd offer her the choice between packing my book cupboard, and taking various racks apart. When I had asked her the day before if she was good with screwdrivers, and she answered "no!" with a confused look on her face, so I was not surprised when the chose the books. So I took down the racks I had built into my cupboard, and why I was at it, I did the same to the shoe rack turned side table next to the sofa. And then as well the rack in which I keep towels in the bathroom. And I packed my CD racks. And then I started cooking. When dinner was almost ready she had packed the last book. She'd been a whirlwind!

 The book cupboard after Hoayda was done with it

While we were having dinner she asked me why I had asked her if she was good with scuba diving. I was confused. I ran through my memories of that conversation, and then I remembered - was she good with screwdrivers! Now I understood the puzzled look.Oh well, it didn't matter - she is clearly good with books and boxes!

It was really nice to get help; we really got a lot done! The biggest jobs now are the ones that need to wait until the end: my clothes, my tools and my kitchenware. And it was nice too to have a bit of social time after a day of packing! My house isn't very homely anymore now, with boxes everywhere. And Hoayda's presence helped me keep my arse in gear with such a lack of sleep looming over me. I now have faith that the rest of the work will go smooth. Moving house is stressful, but this time I think it will be the least stressy packing up of a house I've ever done! Thanks, Hoayda!

My bedroom-annex-box-storage

27 May 2013

Goodbye colleagues

The list of goodbyes continues! I had picked the 24th as the day of my official goodbye, even though I plan to not evacuate my office until the 29th. You don't want to have a goodbye do in the middle of the week when everybody has to get up early the next morning, and you certainly don't want to do it while you are stressed about last things that need done before the removalists come. So Friday 4PM it was! The school provided tea, coffee and biscuits. I was starting to feel strange. I had already felt strange for a while; I had looked at Google Maps what my journey would be, and it started to sink in that when I would embark on that trip, that would be it! Then I would no longer be a southwesterner.

The goodbye do was strange too. All these nice people coming for me! And me leaving them! I was glad and sad at the same time. I am a bit emotional I'm afraid. Many colleagues showed up, and I was glad to see that Malcolm of Geology and Patric of Psychology also showed up. Thanks, gentlemen!

Rob came to me and gave me beautiful words and a lovely present. I'll miss him! Be well, Rob! And then there was the sound of a spoon against glass. Or rather, a cup and saucer banged together. Pete took the floor. And he gave a heart-warming speech. He figured that come people should take over my School tasks. These turned out to be: make sounds during seminars, ask the first question after seminars, and have dreadlocks. He already nominated someone for the last job: deputy head of school Ruth. I trust someone will be willing to see to the other two! And he handed me presents and a card. And it was my own goodbye, so I didn't do the paparazzo thing. No pictures of this event!

I speeched back, forgetting half of what I intended to say. As one does. I recounted how I arrived; alone, sad, received by a grim railway station and an unpleasant apartment. And how, almost 4 years later, I was surrounded by friends, having found a new passion underground, and even one above ground, and a much more experienced academic than I was then. Your surroundings shape you so much, and the southwest turned me into a sea level scientist, a university teacher, a runner, and a seasoned caver/mine explorer. Quite something!

And then it was pub time. We only went there with three people, but a fourth was already awaiting us at the pub, and eight more showed up later. It was very nice! And then we got hungry. A meal followed, and then, under normal circumstances, it would have been bedtime. But this was my goodbye. I had Jon take the lead and drag the remaining men (and me) standing to two more pubs. And then we called it a day. I kissed every single one of them (one is allowed that at one's goodbye do) and then we all went home. When I biked along the moonlit waterfront I got a bit sentimental- again. I might not see this again! Goodbye, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at Plymouth University! I have the card with all the personal goodbyes on it, and I'll treasure it. And I hope to sometimes visit!

24 May 2013

No incinerator

I don't even live there, and I've been to a Yorkshire parish council meeting. I'm going in headfirst! So what is going on? As I mentioned before, when I went looking for a place to live in York, I stayed with Antony, and Antony is on a Mission. North Yorkshire County Council has received planning permission for an enormous waste incinerator near Knaresborough; a village some 10 km away. Antony, who is involved in local politics as he's the head of his parish council, and some of his fellow councilors think that permission has been granted too lightly. They argue the incinerator is about 1.5 times too big for the amount of waste Yorkshire produces, it is therefore also way too expensive, and it would be anyway because recycling is much cheaper as reuse saves money. They also think it's a logistically bad idea to bring ALL the waste of Yorkshire (including York) to one place, instead of the more localized waste disposal that happens now. Furthermore, the planned incinerator had no facilities for combined heat and power (CHP) generation, which is unnecessarily wasteful as well. And several of these considerations had not been properly considered by the planning committee. And Antony and his fellow knights are convinced that permission would not have been granted if the committee had been presented with the full story, and they are trying to have the permission overturned.

Antony really cares about this. During the fieldwork in Peterborough he was working very hard on a speech he would deliver to the planning committee, and even did a try-out with us as the audience. During the Sussex fieldwork he would regularly retreat with his laptop to skype his brothers in arms before breakfast. So I was already quite aware of this issue, and I wasn't surprised to hear that during my stay, he and two of his fellows would speech to the neighbouring parish council.

Appealing against this incinerator isn't free. To be more precise; legal cost is probably going to be ~£70.000. Not something a small village like Antony's can afford! But other villages would suffer too; the closer villages even more, through all the garbage lorries thundering down the roads. And the whole county would suffer through heavily increased council tax to pay for the whole thing, combined with budget cuts on other services, such as health care and education. Nearby villages would also suffer through devaluation of houses if the countryside would get dominated by this monstrously large installation, and villages that contain the current waste facilities would suffer job losses. So many parishes were chipping in. The neighbouring village had not been among them! But if it was up to Antony  that would change. And he dragged me along.

I erroneously assumed we would stay for the entire meeting, so I had brought a Dostoyevsky for in case it got a bit too boring. But as long as the incinerator was the topic, I was interested. They explained the issues in such a way you would want to jerk out your wallet and throw it to them, shouting "take it all!" The local parishioners were not that rambunctious, but it looked like they were won over anyway. And logically so; the plan indeed sounded suspiciously like a "vanity project". These are not the economic times to build unnecessarily expensive facilities, and not the climatic times to build energy-inefficient ones. And when that message had sunk in, and the parish council got ready to discuss the next topic, Antony already gestured at me: time to go! So that was all! Fyodor stayed untouched. Antony then spent the rest of the evening in a meeting with the two mates. And I started a blogpost. I've been won over to the cause too! So I'm still typing this in the balmy south, but I'm already involved in York politics... Say NO to the new Yorkshire incinerator!

Antony talking to a parish council, gesturing wildly

ps read all about it on the parish council website. And there is an action group too!

23 May 2013

More goodbyes

I've said goodbye to the Cave Rescuers, and to the Cornish Mine Explorers. And now I'm staring to say goodbye to colleagues as well! Friday there'll be an official goodbye do, but not everybody will be able to make that. One of my office mates surely can't, so the two ladies together (this excludes my third office mate, who rarely shows up) decided to treat me to proper Devon cream tea a few days before. Today! That was very sweet of them.

They didn't do half work. I had expected tea, scones, clotted cream and jam. And that was all there. But they had also brought the world in sandwiches, and a chocolate cake. So sweet! So we had a little private session. I am very lucky to have shared with them. I hadn't shared offices for years. In the old building, I had my own, phone booth-sized office. And in Norway I had a proper serious office. And before that I was very lucky to share with Alex and Martin, my colleagues and paranymphs, and in a way, I had returned to such days. I have heard I'll share in York as well. I do hope it'll be with equally lovely people!

Claire, me and Nicky

21 May 2013

Last trip with the Cornish

The April trip with the Cornish had been cancelled. Would the May trip happen? Or would my goodbye from the Cornish Mine Exploration Club have to be called in hindsight, like what (almost) happened with my goodbye to DCRO? No it didn't! This trip worked out.

We'd visit a place I had been to before, but for some reason I can't recall I hardly blogged about it. This would be the chance to correct for that!

I made sure I had my radio (AND my iPod - some of these Cornish roads don't provide much by the way of radio signal, be it FM or DAB), and I drove the 1.5 hours to deep dark Cornwall. I was the last to arrive; four intrepid chaps were already getting kitted up. I later made the mistake of calling them rugged Cornishmen; it turned out that only one of them qualified as such, and the others were from London, Liverpool and Sheffield, respectively. I'm hardly more exotic than they are! And the Cornishman was new to the club. He was going to like it down there!

The small team (minus me)

We went in through an adit up the hill. We walked in some distance, until we came to a humongous rock that evidently had come down from the ceiling only recently. It was big! And there were more cracks in the ceiling. This entrance might not be usable for much longer! We quickly scurried past the dodgy bits. And soon we were in places I recognized. Soon we came to nice stoping. Roy, one of the chaps, said he had a proper tripod with him, that I could use, so I tried to capture the extensive space from it. Very nice!
Chris, the new guy, even managed to take some quite good pictures on his iPhone. Quite unlike me, he dares bring it underground!

Roy on the large rock that had fallen from the ceiling

One of the obstacles on the way

The stoping going on forever

The men looking philosophically into space

"No road"!

The other stoping. Young Dave couldn't stand still.

After more amazing stoping we came to an inclined shaft, with lots of infrastructure still in place. The men thought it dated back to the twenties! But it was still solid. We went up a bit. We could step off the ladder and the beams on the side, to explore some parts of the mine we hadn't seen before. And then, after some tea and lunch, we went out again, via another ladderway, which led to an unlocked door. Soon we were blinking into the bright daylight!

The ladderway and skipway

Roy is being very English: he brought tea, and brought the necessary milk separately!

While we were changing I said I supposed nobody would be going to the pub. "Did someone say pub?" Roy immediately asked. It was still early, so the men agreed on having a drink before we would go our separate ways. We enjoyed one in a sunny beer garden, and then it was time to say goodbye. Soon I'll be living about 7.5 hours away from places like this! Maybe I won't see them again, but I hope I do. And either way, I have tons and tons of memories of amazing caving trips to indulge in! Thanks, CMEC, I had a spiffing time with you!

What we saw when we came out

20 May 2013

Tourist in York: Clifford's Tower

Chronological order is grossly overrated! After the gloomy previous post I need to write something happier, so I go back to York. On Tuesday I had some time to kill! And I decided to check out Clifford's Tower. This is the keep of York Castle; a motte-and-bailey castle, of which the bailey has not come out of the middle ages in a recognisable way. It's a nice little keep! With a nice view from it.

Clifford's tower on its motte

The inside - roomier than it looks from the outside

What the whole castle probably looked like

What the former bailey looks like today

 View from the tower on the minster

The hill was very popular with the local geese, as well; the tower has its own parking lot, with concomitant entrance lane. And a family with 13 fluffy baby geese thought this was a great place to have a bt of a rest. They were not at all worried about any potential dangers! That was rather cute.

One of the goslings is so kind as to perform some yoga for the camera

18 May 2013

Disappointing goodbye to cave rescue

We train once a month. The training in May would be my last. But I was in bed with a cold, and I didn't go. So that was it. The last two not very spectacular trainings we had had before that (too unspectacular for mention on the blog)were the last I would see of this team.

But then something happened.

I was in the pub, about to go to a different pub to have a pint and a meal with Jon and some others. And then I noticed I had two text messages. There was a call-out! We were summoned to the Torquay library. I don't know where that is; my maps doesn't either. But in the call-out message it was  mentioned it was on the crossing of two roads. I looked up the crossing on my satnav; that claimed these roads didn't cross. I decided to go to one of the roads and then just drive along it. So I packed my stuff and set off. I was hungry; it was already 8PM and I hadn't had dinner.

There were more messages. There was some confusion on location, by the looks of it. I didn't really want to stop to closely read them; I decided to just drive to Torquay and take it from there. I did manage, at a traffic light, to text "pls give postcode" because that makes it much easier to navigate. So, driving through Totnes and Paignton, I got to my Torquay road.

There I did read the messages properly. One said it wasn't Torquay library, but Paignton library! I had just come through Paignton! This was getting annoying. And they didn't give any information whatsoever regarding where this library might be. And my request for information had been grossly ignored. I think cave rescue might count a bit too much on people who have been living in the area for 50+ years, and don't need such trivial information such as an address. Or those that are happy AND driving, AND googling address information, AND programming their satnav, all at the same time. Which isn't me. But I can do them in succession. I looked up "library" in "Paignton" in my satnav and set off. And the machine brought me to Torquay library.

This wasn't working. I parked my car where I had an internet signal, and googled the postcode to Paignton library. Then I fed that to the satnav, and on I went. Finally I got to the right place. There I saw the car of some of my mates, but no living soul. And I had a message; they had enough people already. But I was here now anyway. I wasn't going home now; I had come this far. It had taken me 1.5 hrs to get there! I was as fed up as someone might be. Seeing some of my friends would soften the blow a bit. But where were they?

I didn't have the number of the guy who was coordinating this call-out, so I couldn't call him to ask what was going on. I called our rescue coordinator. No success. I called Dave. No success. I called our training coordinator. He said he was in a meeting in Lancashire, but he was willing to give me the number of the guy in charge. He did answer the phone; he said they were on the parking lot at the library. Eh, yes, so was I! But there were two, unconnected, parking lots around the library, and I had just picked the least favourable spot from which to spot them. When I figured where I should be, various dirty-looking rescuers were already walking back to their cars.Clearly, everybody was already leaving. At least I got to kiss our first aiders before they were off, and I may never see them again.

I found some people at their cars, among others Dave. He was hungry too. He wanted to have some food in Buckfastleigh, where he had to go first. I decided to go with him. But first I needed fuel.

There was a gas station nearby. Unfortunately, it was closed. The next was closed too. And the next. I was getting worried. What I could really do without was ending up on some rainy country road with an empty tank. I decided the gas stations on the main road would be open, so I aimed for the nearest one. Which, of course, was on the other side of the dual carriageway. Of course.

Getting fuel I realised I was already beyond Buckfastleigh. And I wasn't prepared to go back. So I rang Dave; I would go straight home. Which I did. It was already approaching midnight.

I went in. By now my bladder needed emptying. So I tended to it. And then the light went off. A blown fuse! Of course. It was clear; this was NOT my day. Resigned I flipped the switch again, ate something, and then failed to catch sleep because my stomach was full. What. A. Shit. Night.

I know you can't turn back time. This has happened, and there's nothing I can do about it. The best thing to do is to just shrug and smile. But I find it hard; I'm already worn out by unpleasant working conditions, job uncertainty, and moving-house-stress. So spending my second-last Friday night in the southwest not with friends, but on my own, driving around while I hate driving, in the rain, without radio (I hadn't wanted to waste time getting it), until very late, confused and under-informed, all for nothing, is more than I can do with a smile on my face. I hope this memory fades, while my better memories stay fresh.

16 May 2013

House hunt

Plan A was: bring my bike on the train to York. Bike to the village Antony lives in, which takes an estimated 1.5 hours (no buses on a Sunday!), and then bike back the next day. Use the bike to get from viewing to viewing, and then park it up somewhere and take the bus back to Antony's. And then do as many trips up and down as it takes until I secure myself a place to live! But then I came down with a cold. So plan B was devised: bring my bike on the train to York, park it up at the railway station, be picked up by Antony who was in town anyway, and, I thought, go to Antony's.Then take the bus to town the next day and continue as in plan A. There turned out to be a plan C!

I could have known: Antony is both very keen to help out and very nosy, so when I got into the car he suggested we'd drive past the houses I had planned viewings for. What a good idea! So we drove to the place that had two bedrooms AND was really close to the railway station and the railway museum. It didn't look bad at all! Then we drove to the village green of a suburb. The location of this apartment was enchanting! But there was a bulldozer parked behind it - was there construction work going on right behind the place? Then we went to a flat in another suburb; neither of us liked it. And with some effort we found the last feasible one (we skipped the downtown one - not a good one in a car during rush hour), which was really close to university, and had lots of low-maintenance garden space around it, but which looked not very well-maintained. And then we were off!

During the trip to the village I noticed I was already dreaming of life on the village green. I really warmed to the place! And it would be my first viewing the next day - maybe that would just settle it. We discussed things in Antony's local over a pint, and then it was time for dinner. I was really lucky to spend the stressful time of finding a place in such a nice household - Antony's wife is really lovely too, and where they live might not be the most logistically straightforward place, but it's a beautiful house in the cutest of villages (and if it would be easy to get there, maybe it would have become slightly less cute).

 This is the view that would greet me in the morning

The next day I got into the bus, found my bike, and set off to tourist information to buy me a map. I had been offered Antony's, of course, but I know what my Plymouth map looks like by now, and I was keen to get my own. At the tourist information I also checked my phone; I intended to call off the viewing of the place we hadn't liked. I saw I had a voicemail. It was the agency letting out the house on the Green! They cancelled, as someone else had taken it! That was sad. I decided not to call off the viewing I had planned to cancel; this could happen to any one of the properties on my list! Best to keep your options open. I used the time freed by the cancelled viewing to bike to the place I would view the next day, and from there to university, to get an idea of the commute. It was very nice!

If you approach the university from the west, you travel over a cycle path between barracks

The impopular place was next. I still didn't like it! Then I had a viewing in town. The apartment was beautiful! Much better that I'd expected. There had only been one picture on the website, and it didn't show much, which doesn't inspire much faith. But it was in a very good state, the rooms were huge and light, and one had a view on Micklegate from it. But where to put your bikes? Access to the apartment was through a maze of immaculately white staircases and corridors. I liked it, but if my bike doesn't like it too, then the deal is more or less off. I've spent four years dragging my bikes up and down stairs, and even if I might not mind that too much; the staircase might, if it would be capable of having opinions.

 Micklegate - the street I decided against, on transport grounds

The next one was the place that had two bedrooms AND was really close to the railway station. I had time to first explore the surroundings on bike; I got there over a scenic bicycle path along the river. So far so good! But when I checked the green space beyond the house that had looked so attractive on Google Maps I was in for a surprise: it had become a building site! They were making some flood defenses. And I think flood defenses are a good thing, but in this case they do mean I'm not allowed access to an area I would like to go running in. Bummer!

 This should have been running area!

Then the actual viewing started. I had expected it to be really small, but to my astonishment I walked into a good size living room, with a good size dining room behind it, and a small enclosed courtyard. And two spacious bedrooms upstairs! I was quite impressed. And with the house on the green gone, I was a feeling the metaphorical breath of fellow house-seekers in my neck. And seeing the head of another viewer appear behind the window didn't help to shake that off.

When he came out we had a small chat. He liked it too! I admitted considering racing him to the offices of the estate agents. He said he didn't want to decide until he'd have seen some more properties. He was interested in the one on the Green as well, and was sad to hear it was gone already. They hadn't phoned him yet... we were clearly fishing in the same pond.

The street near the station with the 2 bed terraced house

I went to town. I was hungry. I chose a pub near the offices of the letting agency to eat something, and to consider my options. I had another viewing at 16:45! Should I go? If I went and didn't like it, I would be too late to put dibs on the house I was considering. And the next day I couldn't be in town before 9:30, because of the bus. If I went, I might lose the house! Should I risk it? Should I? Then the phone rang.

It was Roland. He asked me where I was. I said Walmsgate. He said he was too! I stepped out of the pub and waved him in. He joined me. I was a little apprehensive; in his last months his mood hadn't been particularly good. Check the pictures of the Sussex fieldwork, for instance; the only ones in which he smiles are posed. But in walked a changed man: all relaxed smiles. I hope he keeps that up in his new hometown! I told him of my dilemma. And I don't like such decisions. What to do? Risk it? Play safe?

I decided I'd play safe. Still staggering with the burden of decision I left Roland with his pint, and went to the letting agency. There I offered them the £100 that would keep any rivals out, and received the forms I was expected to fill out. The dice had been cast! I was going to live in a 2 bedroom terraced house! I would, for the first time, have space for a dinner table. I would have a guestroom; I am curious how many people will be interested in using it. And I will have a courtyard for sitting in the sun and repairing my bikes and rinsing my caving kit and whatnot. Exciting! The letting agency is now checking my credentials. I hope they get back to me soon, and confirm all is well. One thing that may go wrong is that they can't confirm my employment. I still haven't seen a contract, and when I phoned the university to inquire, I got put through to some three different people without any of them being able to dig out any sign of the university being aware of my existence. They should get their act together fairly soon now! But I went back to Antony's to spread the news. One of the main hurdles is taken now. York, here I come!

14 May 2013

the Eve of York

Moving house is hard. You have to pack up a home while still living in it, you have to say goodbye to all your friends (if you move too far, that is, but that has been what I’ve done the past few times), and go somewhere else, where there is a lot of work to do, but you have no friends yet to share that work with. And if you move somewhere you know you’ll stay for a long while you know these friendships will build up, but when your future is uncertain from the outset, you know you’ll have to face that uncertainty alone. So one can probably imagine I had mixed feelings about my move to York. And of course my nearest colleagues are close, which is good, but one needs a few more friends than the people one works with. When I get there I will have only slightly more than a year left on my contract, and nobody knows what will happen next. So in a way, I can only lose; either I find another job before the current one runs out, and then I’ve moved house for living in York for less than a year, or I don’t find another job before the current one runs out, and then I will have to face unemployment in an expensive city where I have only a fledgling circle of friends. The only way this can turn out perfectly is if I find another job in or near York itself. What are the chances?

So why even go? Well, there are several reasons. York is closer to everything. So apart from the friends and house prices issue, York is a better place to look for a job in. And York is closer to Liverpool, where Hugh now lives. And equally close to an airport from which you can fly to Amsterdam, and closer to airports from which you can fly to Helsinki and Oslo. The Environment department in York seems to be a place on the rise, while until recently, Plymouth seemed to be on a plummeting course down. (I think it isn’t anymore; the school is in a frenzy of hiring very talented people these days. And even management is changing; would that be the end of the days that a permanent contract was a license to idle and bully?) And I was afraid to be pressured to collaborate with Roland’s protégé after Roland would have gone. And I had lived in Plymouth for four years; as it never really felt like home, this might be a good opportunity if another place could be more homely. 

 Some of the ubiquitous beauty with which York greets visitors

What made me feel a bit better about it all was starting to look for apartments on Internet. It gave me a bit of a child-in-the-candy-shop feeling. This one has a garden! This one has a view on the Minster! This one looks out over the Ouse! This one has two bedrooms! This one is really close to the railway station and the railway museum! So thinking of all these desirable things I could have cheered me up. Things got a bit awkward when I had to make appointments with letting agencies from my sickbed, but when I boarded the train to get to York I was already feeling a whole lot better. And I knew I would have a great time: project member Antony had chivalrously offered his hospitality (he is that kind of guy), and I had gratefully accepted. So even though the uncertainty of the situation is still looming dark in the background, this was the time when the good things about moving north were starting to shine through. Let’s hope things will keep on getting better!

12 May 2013

The packing has started

I had already gotten rid of quite some stuff. But nonetheless, when I knew the movers would be bringing 30 cardboard boxes, I wondered where to put them! I decided to take my desk down so the boxes could take its space. And thus the moving began.

The movers were late. I had deconstructed the desk (which gets more complicated every time I move; because it suffers from the handling, I tend to add screws and brackets and other aids), taken down a lamp, and had a few cups of tea by the time they arrived. So it's clearly a house in transition now! In weeks it will have to turn into a mere storage of dismantled furniture and a lot of boxes. And form then on, it will only get better...

10 May 2013

Under the weather - again

I'm typing this at home, in my dressing gown. I don't feel well! My tonsils are swollen and my nose is runny and my head is full of cotton wool. When was the last time that happened? In early january, after I'd visited the Netherlands! And what time is it now? Just after I've visited the Netherlands! Is that a coincidence? I think not...

That which gets me through the day

When I'm at home I make sure I get my sleep. I know I need it! But when I stay with other people I tend to accept I have no say over what time I go to bed. And I think I need to change that. If I stay at my mother's place I always get the rest I need, but elsewehere there often is social pressure to drink into the night. And I can't do it anymore! I have decided that next time I'll try hard to go to bed when I want to. Luckily, all my friends are getting older too: I hope they understand...

Going to the caving trip on Tuesday probably didn't help either. But It's my last month! Then again, I suppose I have to be more strategic with such things too. You win a regular trip, but lose a training! I should keep in mind that an evening out is also a health risk. And I know that sounds like a scaremongering commercial for desinfectant soap, but the reality of the situation is inescapable.

Life is too precious to squander it feeling miserable in bed. And I don't have much time to get better! I have a place to live in York to find! And a manuscript to finish! And I already missed my last ever Devon Cave Rescue training. Stupid! Frustrating! I love that team. And all because I'm not strong anough to say "you lot are lovely, but I want to go to sleep now". One lives and learns...

Bedford Consols on repeat

How a boring mine can become interesting. Bedford Consols is on the club list as a novice trip. A walk in, some getting wet to above the knee, some walking past flooded winzes; some meters of crawling. All very civilized. But there was an ore chute in there somewhere. And one day I climbed it. I found a ladder up there! And the next time I went there, I made sure to climb not only the chute, but also the ladder. Very beautiful! And the ladder leads to a wooden floor I don't dare walk, so that's it, but when this mine was on the list again I was enthusiastic.

We had two new prospective members; a lady who had just moved to Plymouth from Portsmouth, and who was already a caver, and had now joined us; and the landlord of the pub we often visit after our trips. He had heard so many stories and seen so many pictures he had become curious, and wanted to have a look for himself! Both were, of course, very welcome.

We walked to the entrance. And in. Soon we reached the ladderway. I intended to wait for the rest, but that took too long, so I decided to go up the chute, in order to offer the caving lady some excitement. She looked too adventurous for a walk in and a walk out!

Looking up into the ladderway. Pic by Dave

She was a little uncertain to what extent she could trust the woodwork. Fortunately, it's rather solid in the place. So she came up! And then we climbed the ladder! We didn't go any further, and
when we heard voices below us we decided to come back down. By then, Richard, Alex and Rick had made it up the chute too. The former two had been there before, but Rick hadn't, and he was quite impressed by the stoping and the timbering. Then the three men decided to chance the ladder. It clearly suffered a bit from all that use, but all came up (and later down) safely. When Rick reached the upper level, he kept shouting "I've been herebefore!" It turned out he had dropped the shaft somewhere in the nineties. That might still be possible. And if we place enough bolts in the wall, we could even explore the whole level! Normally such thoughts make me glad, but now they make me nostalgic: I won't be there to help him do that.
The level we didn't dare explore - the picture is a bit hazy, hence the small size

Landlord Greg and me in the level. Pic by Dave

We came out and had a pint in the Queen's Head, delivering Greg the landlord back. The countdown has begun. I probably am still in York, or on my way back, for the next trip. So that leaves a maximum of two Tuesday trips!

09 May 2013

Spring in the Netherlands

Should I go back to the Netherlands for the inauguration of the king? I don’t like crowds. So no. But I wanted to come back in spring. What occasion to pick? And then the Dovrefjell bunch decided to get back together in the weekend that contains Remembrance Day and the liberation festivities. So that became my excuse to book flights!

I started in Amsterdam. Roelof had taken the afternoon off! Monique joined us too. It was a lovely sunny day, so we decided to have a beer on the roof of the old Volkskrant building. It now had a pub/restaurant on the top floor. And that turned out to be a very good choice! We caught up. And discussed that we’ll have known each other for 20 years coming August. We should not let that pass unnoticed!

On the roof of the old Volkskrant building: Monique, me, Micha (looking sultry!) and Roelof

Later Marijn, Henco and Maaike also joined. I’ve only known these for some 19 years! Parvenus :). I hope the latter two will join the winterhike again the coming year (they had skipped this year)!

I knew I would not see my mother very much if I would stay the night, so even though I’m always welcome to stay, I caught the last train together with Henco and Maaike to Amersfoort. It was 2AM by the time I got there, but at least I would wake up in my mother’s house. And once on our way I realised I didn’t have my camera with me. D’oh! I probably had left it in the pub. How many times have I had to go back to a pub to get this thing? It’s a miracle I’ve had it for this long.
The next day I just caught up with my mother, until it was time to go to the Hague for the Norway reunion. I walked through this city which is more familiar to me through television (it’s the seat of parliament!) than from real life. I found a street stall selling herring next to the Binnenhof; I didn’t let that opportunity slip. I was keen on making sure I would get my share of Dutch delicacies as herring, cheese and bitterballen while I was in the country!

On my way to a rendez-vous with the Dovrefjell lot I passed the Binnenhof; the seat of Dutch political power

I ate a herring there!

Meeting most of the hike crew was nice. Four couldn’t make it, but eight isn’t a bad score. One chap came in with a pair of skis over his shoulder. He was ready for next year’s trip! We all admired his new purchase. 

Later in the evening we watched an obscure movie in which people were at risk of dying of hypothermia. We figured that was fitting! But after part I I was too tired to see part II. It’s in my bag now… it was bedtime.

The next day we had a lie-in, enjoyed breakfast in the sun, and then we were off. Felix brought me to Leiden, where I bought a Public Transport chip-card. After I left the Netherlands, these had been introduced. I had never gotten round to getting one. The ticket machine offered me the option, and I jumped to it. I immediately felt much more integrated in society! And the system seemed to work rather well, too. 

From Leiden I went back to Roelof. I sure had left my camera in the pub! They had found it, though, and he had retrieved it. The initial plan had been to go to my mum before visiting my sister, but now I had to make the detour through Amsterdam. I planned that really badly. I didn’t stay long; I wanted to go see my mum! But once I was in the train to Amersfoort I realised that only if I was really fast, I would manage to run to her place, give her a kiss, and then run back to take the train to Hilversum, where my sister lives. So that wasn’t a feasible option. I could have stayed at Roelof’s for another hour! I had that nasty feeling in my gut, that you get when you know you’re wasted crucial time, and it was gone forever. But the only thing you can do with that is learn from it and try not to think too much about it otherwise. 

It was Remembrance Day weekend. That showed even on the platforms of Amersfoort railway station. 

I read a book for half an hour on Amersfoort station, and then I went to Hilversum after all. There I found my tired sister and her family; they had had a family weekend (my sister’s husband’s family), and were worn out by lack of sleep and frolicking on the beach.

I had made things worse by not only turning up, but also inviting my father and stepmother along. More family! My father and his wife had only just come back from holiday in the Eiffel. They didn’t look tired at all. They were just tan!

My nephew showed me the guinea pigs. My other nephew introduced me to the infamous King's song. My niece played harmonica for me, and gave me a drawing of a flying horse pulling a coach. My dad wondered if my next job would be on Samoa. And the sun was still shining. It was very nice indeed!

My dad and stepmother gave me a ride to the railway station. I went back to my mother. I would still have a bit of the evening with her, and then the next morning! I borrowed her bike to go buy some cheese: very Dutch. And then it was time to get English again!

 Me and my mum!

I stayed in Dutch atmospheres a little longer than I had anticipated: when I was boarding the plane, I saw a Dutch roboticist I know. He works at Plymouth University too. He had come to the airport by public transport. But I was by car! So I gave him a ride back to Plymouth. Another hour of speaking Dutch! But all things must end, even being Dutch in the head. Time to get English again. I have to get ready to move North! But I will be back: next month there’s a wedding in Amsterdam I’m invited to! Stay tuned!

07 May 2013

South Bedford: the finale

This mine shaft had eluded us three times. Would we finally get down into it? If we would, then surely not without some difficulty!

The adit of South Bedford leads to a shaft. On the other side the tunnel continues. We had spent one trip concluding that. One trip figuring out if there was an entrance to a lower level. One trip dropping in from the top, and exploring the tunnel on the far side of the shaft. And the day had come when the usual suspects Dave, Lionel, Rick and I would drop the actual shaft.

I was on my way home when Lionel phoned. Dave wouldn't be coming; could I go and pick up some bolts? We'd need them! I could, but that would take up the time I had scheduled for eating. Oh well. Lionel would get me a sandwich...

I got the bolts. And even made it in time to the meeting point. So far so good. There I found Rick. He was in his pyjama bottoms, and looked miserable. He handed me his drill and proclaimed he would go straight back to bed. Oh dear! No Rick! And as well: no rope! I knew Lionel expected him to bring one. I hadn't brought mine either. I figured it wouldn't be long enough, anyway...

Then Lionel turned up. Without a rope! We decided to solve this by borrowing Rick's, so Lionel and I followed him home. There we got the orange rope, and a befitting hug from Rick's girlfriend, to congratulate me with my king. But then we were off. It would just be the two of us!

We got to the shaft without issues. Then we were faced with the task of drilling holes. Not easy; there was nowhere to stand comfortably while doing that. With a lot of effort, sweat, and discomfort Lionel managed a hole anyway. But when he put his weight on it, we saw it move. Not good! He had to drill another one.

Lionel bolting the holes. With interesting dirt impersonating facial hair!

It was none by the time we had managed to rig this place. But better late than never! I was the first down. It was a nice shaft, but only a shaft. No levels going off in any direction! After a while I could see the garbage that was filling it up. We wouldn't be able to go further. So nothing down there. I did want to go all the way down, though.

The garbage filling up the shaft

And then I saw it. A level, after all! I shouted to Lionel, and swung in. Exciting! In no time Lionel was there too. Time to explore!

The previous level had already been hardly ever visited, but judging by the pristine flowstone on the floor, and the stalactites and stalagmites almost blocking the way, this one had perhaps been visited even less. Maybe not at all since the mine closed. Beautiful!

Me in the level

Zinc air pipes, being incorporated into stalactites

Lionel makes his way past the dripstone obstacles

Flowstone on the floor: a sign of little disturbance

An especially decorative column next to some more piping

A pretty cluster of stalagmites

The colours in there were rather spectacular in general

There wasn't much archaeology; we found a hammer, a pick-axe, and lots and lots of zinc air pipes. But not much more. And not much oxygen, either. We didn't dare linger! We did make sure to explore all apparent dead ends (they were actual dead ends, it turned out) and then we went back. Lionel went first, so I could still take some pictures. Another venue explored! And quite a special one as well...