30 September 2014

First lecture!

Standing up in front of a room full of people and telling them about something scientific: I've been doing it for many, many years. When I was a student pretty much every module we did in years 4 and 5 involved us presenting our findings to our fellow students. And from my PhD time on, I've done plenty of presentations at conferences. That's a completely different audience; you tend to get THE experts in the field in front of your nose! I remember once presenting at EGU and seeing Laurent Labeyrie on the front row - he's quite a big cheese. It made me a bit nervous! And that got worse when the convener invited the room to ask questions, and immediately his arm shot up! Luckily I had an answer to his inquiry.

I've also done presentations for job interviews, and lunch talks, and I did a research seminar here in Bangor only weeks after I started the job. So a lecture, that would be the same, wouldn't it? But no... to me it is not. And when term was about to start I got a bit nervous. I mentioned before, in this post, why; mainly because I was module leader on a module, and that means you're responsible for the whole shebang. And I'm new here! How do I know how everything works.

So as I said, I was a bit nervous. The Friday before term started I made the website live. And then I rehearsed my first two talks a bit. And made sure I got to the venue early! I do pretty much all my teaching in Bangor itself; that's some 20 minutes on bike away. I had been in the building of the first lecture before, but never in the room. Let alone that I knew what time the building would open, if the room would be locked, if I would manage to work the projector...

All ready to rock!

Then the students came in. 37 new faces. It should have been 43, but hey, this is university. I thought it was a fine number! And at 9 sharp I started. And it went well! I had 30 slides. If I am not careful, I can do two per minute. I now clearly had to do two minutes per slide! So I tried to take it easy. When I was a student I also appreciated lecturers who spoke calmly. And I thought I managed quite well. And in addition to that, I got some reponse! I asked them why they thought there were hardly any ice shelves in the Arctic, if they had heard of Lake Agassiz en what it is famous for, what they guessed the albedo of sea water is approxiomately, and all that kind of things. And sometimes an answer came! I was quite enjoying it. And when i was done after 45 minutes (oops, not slow enough) I felt good, and looked forward to the next lecture the day after. A good start of my lecturing career!

29 September 2014

More underground cliffhangers

I have reached the stage where weekends and evenings belong to work! But I make an exception for Thursday. I allow myself one short working day, as I think I'd go a bit daft if I never relented. And the underground trip this week was just so very enticing! The last time I had been in this mine, we had ended up concluding our maypole wasn't high enough to reach another level up. The week I'd been in the Netherlands the others had extended the maypole, clambered up, and found a shaft going up even further. Exciting! They had plonked two sections of maypole in the shaft but had run out of time. It would be up to us this week to connect the two pieces, and clamber up, and see what was at the top of this shaft! At least, that was the plan.

First we had to get tese two pieces assembled. Phil clambered up the maypole, got off at a convenient ledge, and placed the connection piece on top. Then I joined him at the ledge, and together we tried to lift the shorter piece on top of the longer one. But we weren't tall enough!

Phil on his ledge, and me below on the maypole. Pic by David.

I went down again, and up went David, who is easily the tallest of the lot. But after a lot of faffing we decided it still wouldn't work this way, and that we should instead lift the long bit on top of the short bit. And that wasn't easy; as it was, the connection wouldn't fit over the top of the short piece, and we didn't have the proper tools to change that. Luckily we had Pingu with us; he is a roady, and can improvise anything with scaff. So he managed, even without proper tools. And then with combined forces we managed to lift the two sections on top of each other and bolt the two together. Time to get up and see if we could get off at the top!

David volunteered, and had a look. One sees coming what he reported back, I suspect: it still wasn't long enough! He could see that there was a level going off, but no way of getting there safely. And all the faffing had taken time. We decided to leave it for next week. The plan is to go to the top of the maypole, drill some holes in the rock, anchor the pole, extend it even further, climb up, get into the level, bolt that too, and then lower a rope. Ropes are a lot more user-friendly than maypoles...

When David had come down Pingu took the opportunity to clamber up and have a look. And when he'd come down I did the same. But I didn't even dare go to the very top! A maypole is a bit bendy, so it tends to sort of asymptotically press itself into the wall as you come higher. And standing on a very high vertical construction that's not fixed to anything is scary: it feels like it will topple backwards! And it probably won't, but I decided to not take chances. And that it leans so closely to the wall that there isn't much space for your toes, or for your hands fitting around, doesn't help either. And when standing still you can fix yourself to it, so if it topples over you won't fall to the ground, but that doesn't help during ascent or descent. And isn't entirely reassuring either. I'll be braver (well, less scared) once that thing is fixed to the wall. But it does mean I hope someone else will be willing to do the drilling. We have several blokes whom I suspect of doing just that without much batting of eyelids, but blimey, that shouldn't be taken for granted. Anyone keen on standing some 15 high on a rickety, un-anchored, vertical structure, fixed to it, but not even holding on to it as both hands are needed for the drill? And then pushing away from the wall, as otherwise the drill bit won't get in? Anyone?

26 September 2014

Overdue visit to the Netherlands

I’d been in the Netherlands for Christmas. And then I applied for the Bangor job. And got it. And had to work hard to finish as much as I could of my York work. And then I moved house. And then I went to Vienna, and not much later to South Wales and then I went offshore for 6 weeks. And then summer was over! I hadn’t seen a family member for such a long time. And even though it wasn’t going to get any calmer, I decided it was time to pop over to see everyone. My mother would have her birthday, and everyone with whom I’d had Christmas dinner in Harderwijk had collectively turned 300. A nice age! Which needs some celebration. So I booked tickets. 

I first spent some time with my mother. As I do! It was nice to see her. She had wine and cheese and time to catch up. And I took the opportunity of going for a few runs from her house. And Amersfoort, where she lives, has been so familiar; I went to school there. But that’s more than 20 years ago, and every time I go for a run I am reminded of just how different it all is.

This part hasn't changed at all - it was the prettiest part of my school commute

 This was clearly done up! Looks nice.

I also went to Amsterdam, to see some friends. A lot had happened since I saw them last. Both an old-fashioned Amsterdam pub (the landlady called me “mop”!) and Roelof’s house provided a venue for discussing all that. And I got to see Micha’s atelier. From the street not much indicates such an arty hotspot exists there! And it had even not burnt down. 

And on Sunday I saw more family; my father and Dutch sister plus family. Or in other words, the collective that had turned 300. With my stepmother doing the honours of reaching that round number when turning 70. And to celebrate that, we visited Pampus, the little fortress island just NE of Amsterdam, guarding the harbour. It never really did much defending; not only does it seem to have been built fearing flat-bottomed German boats that didn't turn out to exist; it also lost its strategic function when people were so rude as to invent the use of airplanes for war purposes. And we were lucky; the fort seems to be festooned with "the Pampus experience", but the computer had crashed and they didn't manage to start it. So we just had the fortress, without all the hoo-ha! Excellent.

The ferry to Pampus went past an impressive ghost ship

Pampus in sight!

Pampus' dry moat

I spent some of the time either lugging my 7-year-old niece around, or discussing things like the loss of one's native language upon leaving one's motherland with my eldest nephew. I am still afraid of children, but these are now so old I had a great time with them! 
And a drink afterwards! With the three who contributed most to the cumulative 300 years on this pic.
And then time was up. My draft lectures were waiting. I flew to Manchester, drove home, parked the car, ate a sandwich and went to the office. There is a reason I haven't been visiting much this year, and that reason hasn't gone away yet! I'll see everybody again around Christmas...

23 September 2014

Teaching is nigh

When I accepted my current job I pretty much knew that the first term of the new academic year would be devoured by teaching. I was glad I had some of the summer to prepare! But summers rush past like nothing on Earth and before I knew it, I was less than two weeks away from my first lecture. And that's fairly nerve racking.

It's not even the lecturing itself that I am worried about. It is a humongous job; in this first term (September-December) I have to give 10 lectures on glaciology, 3 on shelf seas, and one on sea level change. In addition I have to do one day in the field with the students, do a practical with them in which they process the data they gathered in Laugharne, and assist with the Palaeoceanography practicals and students' presentations. And that is a lot.

 That will be me!

I now have to teach more glaciology than I myself ever had. I have to do a lot of reading up on it! And the shelf sea lectures are a lot more specific than the work I have so far done on such environments. The sea level lecture isn't so bad, but even on a topic you're familiar with, you need preparation to talk about it for an hour, in a well-illustrated and well-documented way. And I was there when the Laugharne data was gathered, but that doesn't mean I knew the software the students would be using, what data format that software required, and more of such things. And the fieldwork; half of it takes place somewhere I haven't been, doing measurements I've never taken. I have a lot of prep to do on that too.

But what worries me more is all the admin that surrounds it. This is 2014; you can't just rock up, give some lectures, and have the students do an exam at the end of it. No! In advance you have to make all your lectures available to the students online, and you have to also tell them online how you will assess them, when all the deadlines are, how things will be marked, and how they will be receiving feedback. And I'm already a bit confused by this new environment (it's easier to start teaching at your Alma Mater - then you have some idea of how things work!), but all this online business is new to me. I'm old! When I was a student myself the lecturers used overhead projectors. You got your grades on a piece of paper on a noticeboard. How these were generated was something you were just told. And it's rather daunting if you suddenly have to make decisions on deadlines and assessments if you have no idea why things are the way they are. 

I don't think I'll see an actual blackboard during any of the lectures, but Blackboard (TM) is ubiquitous!

I have help, of course. The woman who taught all of this last year now lives in Canada, but she does reply to email. And it used to be James' teaching, and he's around, but he has so much on his plate I try not to bother him too much. And it matters I get things right; the students pay £9000 a year, and it's bad enough they have to learn their glaciology from a non-glaciologist (as well-meaning as I may be), but if I accidentally refrain from putting some crucial information online because I didn't know I was supposed to, I'm sure the complaints will be flying in left, right and centre. And I would like to avoid that! So the time has come to work weekends and evenings. I'm not sure for how long. Very long, I suppose, as by the time the worst of the teaching has passed I will have a backlog in my research! But that's life as an academic. It's not that I condone that this is the norm; it would be better for everyone if both teaching and research would not be performed under such time pressure. But hey ho. Let's just jump in and hope I swim instead of sink. Wish me luck!

18 September 2014

More radiocarbon

I know I should concentrate on my upcoming lectures, but I get very distracted by dating. A cruise can have such effect! I mentioned already I had brought some samples back from the boat; both shell fragments and the likes, taken from the sediment cores on board, and a few bulk samples to sieve out, to see if they'd yield something. All for radiocarbon dating. This project only deals with times going back some 26.000 years, so well within radiocarbon reach! And by now the sieving is done. I've weighed what I have sieved out. It is time to make a decision on how to apply when for having which ones dated. It's important! Without age control our whole project falls apart. So this is crucial! But so is teaching preparation. I'll just have to juggle the two. Welcome to academia!

 I found two of those in my samples, and if it's up to me I'll date them both. From http://www.anemoon.org/Flora-en-Fauna/Soorteninformatie/Soorten/ID/585/Zeeboontje

17 September 2014

Fell running; quite something!

I spent half my youth with bandaged ankles. I spent half my adult life in knee braces. I rely heavily on orthopedic insoles. I'm not worth much from the knees down! And it runs in the family; both my sisters have, or have had, issues with at least one of the mentioned body parts. I remember once going to a physiotherapist for my knees. I figured she'd want to prod my knees a bit, and thought I'd prepare, so I'd taken my tights off, which only works if you remove shoes as well. She walked in and said "ah, I see, you come for your ankles, yes they do look rather bad". A later physiotherapist I saw about my knees said I only have propulsion muscles, and no balance muscles, so as long as I'm on a bicycle and only perform motions prescribed by the paddles I'm alright, but woe be me if I try to actually walk. Especially on rough terrain. Especially fast! You can tell, the last sport I should take up is fell running. If I do a trail run I already end up walking all the bits that are too steep or too muddy or too uneven. One wrong step and I'm back to my crutches! My knees just flop inside out a bit too easily. And even though I've become an expert at taking my weight off my ankle as soon as I feel I'm about to roll them, I still am aware they're not robustly built. So hence all the races I blogged about being either road or trail runs. But you don't really know what you're talking about until you've properly tried something. So there was a fell run coming up; the Half Peris from Llanberis to Pen-y-Pass, and after some hesitation I registered.

It was only 8.5 miles. It's not that much! But during these mere 8.5 miles, one had to ascend 1.3 km and descend just over a km. That's quite a lot! And fell races come with compulsory kit: as they are well aware people can get lost as the race is only patchily indicated, or get injured in an inaccessible place, they make you bring full waterproofs, gloves and a hat, a map, a compass, a whistle, and food. Strangely enough, water isn't compulsory, but I never run without it, and didn't intend to start now. So you run with a bag. Very wise, but it only makes it harder! This would be interesting.

I thought I knew where the start was, but I was wrong, With some other runners I tracked it down anyway. Runners tend to be very chatty! So soon some woman asked me and the chap I was talking to whether we would run together. She clearly thought we knew each other... but I denied it; the chap looked fast. And I would be proven right!

 At the start. The lady on the right who isn't wearing running kit will count down to the start.

A chap talked us a bit through the route, as it had been changed from the previous year. And then a lady who had been involved in the organisation just yelled "one, two, three!" and off we were. This was a low-tech race.

We would run to the path I had taken two years ago to get from town back to the mountaineering hut we were staying in, during a PCG weekend. At some point we would turn into Dinorwic Quarry, and climb all the way to the top.  800 metres of ascent in one go! From there it was easier for a while; from there we ran along the ridge for some 4 km (the same route we'd taken on that PCG trip). Then it'd go up to the next top; another 200m. Then down 250m and up 300m. And then 650 m down. Oh dear.

From the very start I felt slow. I don't know why! Even slower than I'd expected. So by the time the ascent started I was already somewhere in the back. And I fell behind more and more. Before I reached the first top I was the last Half Peris racer. But 30 minutes after our start, the full Peris Horseshoe started; that's, as the name implies, a race that's twice as long. And these runners were by now whizzing past! And when I reached the few kms of horizontal I ran a bit, but not much; quite often, the ground was way too uneven.
Walking up an incline of the slate quarry

Running up a quarry track - the runners are starting to disappear!

 The other runners (colourful dots)vanishing up the slope of the first peak

I knew I was slow, but what a landscape! What weather! I was having a great time. I struggled up the second peak, and was already almost the last of all the runners - including the full Peris ones. And in the pass below I brought the map out - some runners had headed off to the right of a lake ahead, but as far as I recalled, we had to go around the left. I was right!

 If the terrain is like this I'm not running!

 The last peak seen from the slope of the middle one. You can see the path running to the left of the little lake, and then curving to the top.

At the top of this last peak I realised how tired I was. And I was developing a headache. I carried some 2 litres of water, but I drank that much during the recent cricket match, and now I was doing much more demanding things! At the top I opened my bag of jelly babies. My blood sugar was running low! And I chatted a bit with the second last runner. He wasn't in a hurry either, and was willing to take a picture of me. But then we set off, to the finish we could see in the distance. It was way, way too steep for me to run. I pretty much walked all the way down. There was noone in sight. There was no sound. It was very peaceful!

The last peak!

Me still smiling, but not moving very fast. Behind my shoulder you can just see the cluster of buildings where the finish is

 You're in Wales or you're not; the course was festooned with a dead sheep

When I got close to the finish I heard calling. It was the race organisation; they had spotted me, and saw I was [proceeding too low on the hill. That way I would hit too steep terrain. So a chap guided me in; very nice! I felt a bit guilty, as I figured they probably had to keep the finish open extra long only for me. The second last chap must have come through ages ago! But they didn't complain. They wrote my time on a piece of paper (as I said, this was a low-tech race) and that was it. They pointed me to the bus. And in it were several more runners! I wasn't as much slower as the rest as I had thought.

The bus took us back to Llanberis. I walked back to the hotel where registration had been, and where my car was parked. There would be soup for all the runners! I could do with some. I got me a cup and went to the terrace. Where I was spotted by the chap with whom I'd chatted at the start! And his friend. I joined them, and we had a good time. And when there was rumour of a prize ceremony the fast runner, by the name of Jacob, wanted to go and see; he figured he's been the youngest runner and therefore also the fastest in his one-man age category. Unfortunately, they only give prizes to the fastest all-round, and the fastest in the 40+, 50+, and 60+ categories (there had been no 70+ runners).

When that was done I wanted to jump into Llyn Padarn. I was sticky and salty and a bit battered! And cold water helps against that. And cold it was! And it did help. After that bath I was ready to drive home. But there I was still zonked. I went as far as taking an actual hot bath! That's rare. But it felt good.

So what's the verdict? It was great, but I think I only ran some 10% of the race. The rest I had to walk! Too steep up, too steep down, or too rocky. I slightly shocked the guy who guided me in; I said I'm rubbish on rough terrain. He didn't know what to say. Why enter one of the most mountainous races in the entire country if you are rubbish on rough terrain? But I explained I wanted to be sure.
 And I think I am now. It took me some 3:45h, which boils down to a pace of ~3.5 km/h. I think I should give up on this, and next time just walk, alone (or with other hikers) and with mountain boots rather than running shoes. I won't go any slower, I get the same views, but I keep nobody waiting, and I can bring more coffee. And for running, I think I'll stick to road and trail races!

16 September 2014

Back to slate

I'd spent two consecutive Thursday nights in Benallt mine. The others had spent more than that, as they had started exploring while I was at sea. And the owner of the maypole would be back the week after, so it was decided to take a break from this mine, and return to slate for a week. And I'm sad to miss what may well be the final Benallt action, as I'll have to give next week a miss, but I don't mind a bit of slate myself! But slate mines are often big. And if you want to get from one end to the other in a reasonable time you need to keep moving. So no pictures on this trip! But it was nice. And it was probably our last trip in quite a while with Ross. I could imagine he doesn't see that as an undiluted loss; I think our habits of scampering under and over all sorts of less than stable constructions and formations had him frequently wondering what on Earth he had got himself into, but we'll miss him. And there were wild plans of jumping in the stream afterwards, and raising a glass to Ross, but it had got too late for any of that. One can't have it all! But one can have slate.

 Generic pic of a part of the mine we passed, taken on a different trip by Linden

14 September 2014

River kayakking

After having had lots of kayak fun in Norway, I had tried it in Britain too. It just wasn't the same. But when the underground people had decided to spend one Thursday night above ground, and more specifically: at the surface of Llyn Padarn, I got the spark again. If you are not dependent on a club, you can have all the fun you want! So when another plan surfaced of underground people going river kayakking, and I was invited, I didn't know how fast I should accept.

David picked me up from home. We'd first scout out the terrain; by some impractical coincidence we'd picked a river near a rather big festival, and indeed, several roads were closed. Maybe next time we should consider such boundary conditions. But we had several options up our sleeve, so when Simon and Briony showed up too we knew where to go.

By sheer coincidence (again!) we launched at an artistically noteworthy site; it turned out that the surrounding hills and river had been the venue of an ongoing art project for the past 27 years. Read about it here; some artist had lost a big wooden boulder in a stream and decided it would be very arty to have it make its way out to sea on its own. And it had been presumed buried by the river, but just that weekend it had resurfaced, right where we launched. So our launch was festooned by a chap with a big fat camera photographing a big lump of wood...

 The launching site. Notice the chap with the camera (just behind David's hat) taking a picture of the wooden boulder!

We paddled downstream at a leisurely pace. Simon and Briony were in an inflatable canoe, and these aren't very fast. But why hurry? It was a beautiful afternoon. The plan was to reach Portmeirion, have a pint in the sun, and go back, but without that pint we would still be happy. We'd see how we would fare!

Action shot of Briony and Simon

We passed underneath an bridge with a new one built right next to it. No idea if the old one will remain, but for now they look good together.

We paddled along one abandoned slate quay after the other; this quiet valley must have been an industrial hub. But downriver it became more industrial again; some people were piling a metal dam into the river bank, around an electricity pylon. We we could paddle past. But we had to stop paddling soon; the river became so shallow even in a kayak one would get grounded. Quite some vessel-dragging followed! And not too far from the shallow bit there were some rocks sticking out, creating rapids and hollows and whatnot. Easy to negotiate with a kayak, but not with a canoe. David and I pulled the kayaks on land and waited for the others. They accidentally did the rapids backwards, but without trouble. But a break was in order!

The bananas, sandwiches, and crisps came out, and while these were consumed we saw the tide change. It came up really rapidly! We figured reaching Portmeirion was a no go. This tide should be ridden, back to our boulder. Oh well!

 Where we turned back - notice the kayaks pulled up on the sand

It was quite nice to have been carried downstream by wind and river, and upstream by the tide. And it came in so quickly it was creating standing waves, or patterns of them, all over the place. Fun! But with all that power pushing you on, still a lazy day! But it was good we had turned when we did; the sun was sinking below the hills, and it was getting cold. Kingfishers whizzed past while we retraced our metaphoric steps, and at 19:30 or so we were back at the cars. Time to put on trousers, jumpers, jackets! And then gloriously retreat to an on-route Indian restaurant. This was exactly the kind of day of which I hoped I'd have some before teaching would start. I might have no time for a proper holiday, but I sure have (or will make) time for a bit of outdoor fun with friends!

The tide washing over a shallow bit

13 September 2014

Sloe gin in the making

Sloe gin - I have to thank this blog for pointing out to me that it exists. It was due to a comment posted after I'd published a purely decorative picture of a berry-carrying bush I had no idea of what it was that I find out there is such a thing as sloe berries. For that was what they were.

My next encounter with the stuff was when Neil had made some, and I got to try it. It was nice! I like home-made stuff, and this was nice indeed. I thought one day I should make my own.

Later I got to try professionally produces sloe gin, at probably the best place to try it: the Plymouth Gin Distillery. Plymouth gin is really good stuff, and it still is when you chuck berries in them. As I could try out at Pete's birthday one year.

And then I moved to Wales. And found myself a running route. Some of that was rather overgrown. And then, after the cruise, I suddenly noticed that some of the shrubs almost choking the path I would run on, were blackthorns - the bush sloe berries grow on! This was my chance. I googled how you do it, asked a colleague who seemed to be in the know if early September was too early to pick them, heard it probably isn't, bought gin and a sealable glass jar, and one sunny afternoon went back to my path. And saw it had been cleared! You now didn't have to duck to avoid the mean blackthorns anymore. And it had been done recently (it had to - it must have been after my last run there) so there was a plethora of cut-off branches lying around. Well, let's use these then! These berries won't get any better. And my limited body height doesn't matter with branches that lie on the floor. And after a while I had my biggest tupperware full. Enough!

I had found out from both internet as knowledgeable colleagues it helps to freeze the berries before you make the gin, so I rinsed them and shoved them in the freezer compartment. I know it doesn't freeze very well, but one has to make do with what one has. And a few days later I prepared the first jar. I have enough berries for litres of sloe gin, but I ran out of gin! But the process has started. The next jar will follow soon. Now I have to turn the jar(s) every day for two weeks, and then once a week for some months more. And then I can go and try! I hope it will turn out well!

11 September 2014

Awyr Las run

When I came back from the boat I craved some runs. So I did the Caernarfon 10k a week after coming back. And there was a 5k at a nearby National Trust mansion the week after. Two loops through their gardens! And 5k isn't much, but it is fun, and I thought it'd be worth seeing this estate. So I registered!

I went on bike. Plas Newydd ("new palace"), the venue, was that close! I was one of the few. The parking field was rapidly filling up, but no bike was in sight. But a chap (who I recognised from the previous race) suggested his was parked int he cricket pavilion, and why wouldn't I do the same with mine? And so I did.

I got my number, and hung around a bit. I was early. And when it was time to gather at he start I was one of the first. I ended up quite far at the front! And why not. When the fog horn went I legged it. And after only a few tens of metres I realised I had probably overdone it. But well, why not go with the flow. Heavily breathing I just plodded on. Enjoying the gardens! They were most scenic.

 The gate house (or something) of the palace with the car parking in front. I saw only three bikes on the terrain!

We went along, and down, and down again, and along the strait (which was lovely!), and up some steps, up more slope, around a hairpin bend, and along the actual mansion, and then all that again. Halfway along it started raining. I noticed I was tired and panting, but pretty much nobody overtook me. I was getting away with it! I just plodded on. No women in sight I could try to overtake near the finish. But I saw I finished within 25 minutes; that wasn't bad! It was a lot hillier than the perfectly flat Parkrun, and I had only managed that at 23:39 at the fastest.

 Running past the cannons at the waterfront

Me all sweaty at the rainy finish

The main building at the strait

After the finish I wanted to get back to my bike, so I went back to where the registration had been. And found the pavilion locked! Oh dear. I went back to the finish, and found me an official who could open the door for me. I found a friendly lady who offered me a ride in a golf cart. Dearie me! I have fallen deep. But I did get back to my bike. I took some more pictures of the house, as I hadn't bothered while running, and then I went home. To see I had been 9th woman, of 141! Not bad! Even though of course a 5k would attract much more insecure runners than a tough race. And on that note; I'll do one of those next week! I bet I'm more likely to end in the slowest 7% of women than the fastest 7% in that race... but the views should be even a lot better!

10 September 2014

Maypole bonanza

We had had such fun the first underground trip I did after the cruise. A mine with lots of daft verticality! Lots of dodgy ancient wood, dodgy ancient rusty metal, and iffy wobbly improvised means to get up vertical bits where no questionable wood or iron were present. And there was more vertical to negotiate! So we went back the week after.

I honestly think it was a coincidence that this time, we were with only three. We arrived with four, but one of us decided to rather go and take pictures at the surface than venture into that daft place. Well, whatever floats his boat! And the three left were Ross, who was actually a caver, and not at all keen on the dodgy deteriorating structures of mine exploration, and then David and me. 

We went in, waded through the thigh deep water, climbed the two ancient ladders, clambered up the winze with all the timber, went up the winze with the rope, climbed the chain, and got to where we had left the maypole the previous time. Ross didn’t like the look of it at all. The previous week he had not climbed it. But now our goal was even higher, so he had to get up that climb anyway! But David went first, and I followed, and then we rigged the pitch. Ross is fine on a rope…

He first checked if another passage went, by descending into a good viewpoint, but it didn’t, so we continued on our way to the goal. A passage above!

We retrieved the maypole and its extension, and then bolted them together, plus lots of rungs, to make a 6m improvised ladder. And we put it up. It didn’t reach quite high enough! The passage we were aiming at was clearly part collapsed, and the bit still there had a thick floor of loose rubble. And the maypole ended in the middle of it. It was a landslide waiting to happen, and you really wouldn’t want to try to clamber on top of it, as there was a risk of the rubble plus you all coming down. And then there was the issue of coming back down!

Ross bolting the two halves of the maypole together

Dave tried to take a lot of it down in a controlled(ish) manner, but there still was no way it was safe to get up. So we didn’t! We still have to come back again, with a cunning plan of how to solve this issue! Can we extend the pole once more? Or should we just lug a drill up, bolt it, and then give it a go? We’ll see!

 Me at the top of the maypole. Pic by David.

When David had decided it was a no go I went up too, just to see, and then we went out. We were still in town for a pint! Which we got in Rhyd Du. Maybe next week we’ll manage to finally get up!

09 September 2014


It took me two years in the UK to get to a cricket ground and watch a game. And now, three years after that, I found myself right in the middle of the action! The School of Ocean Science has a cricket team, largely composed of confused foreigners that had never played before they joined. It is captained by my office mate, so it would be easy to join. But I didn't. I figured that leaving work early and getting to bed late once a week was often enough. And going underground has priority! So after several months of Wales I still had never held a bat. But one day, the time had come to change that.

There is an ancient tradition within the School to have, once a year, a cricket match between Marine Biology and The Rest Of The World. Does that sound skewed? It is in an unusual way. The world here should be read as the school, and within the school, the MB bunch dominate. So they tend to win! And this year I thought I'd join, for some half of the game, as it had been unfortuitously been scheduled on a Thursday. And as said, going underground has priority!

I was the first there. It was a bright summer day! This was going to get tropical. Soon others arrived, with a bag of kit, and a barbecue, and several dogs, and whatnot. And several of us seized the opportunity to practice a bit. As said, I had never held a bat! Nor bowled, with that funny outstretched arm. But it was more fun than expected! And then the game started.

It is a seriously competitive games. Both captains took this very seriously! And the best batsmen were used first. Just as the other team deployed their best bowlers first. So it started rather professional! But it wouldn't last; both teams had scores of members that had never played before. And when my office mate was bowled out it was my turn.

 Alex and Martin, our best batsmen, and by sheer coincidence (or is it?) both former Plymothians...

"Don't look so fanatic!" was what the enemy captain told me. I ignored it. But looking fanatic didn't help! The first ball I let go; it went behind me. I had played rounders in secondary school; if a ball is wide you don't move, and then it doesn't count. But this was cricket! I should have hit it. Oh dear.

Me having padded up for my turn to bat!

I then tried to hit anything. With no success! When I finally hit something it wasn't a good hit. I decided to run anyway. Might just as well go all the way! But it was an unwise choice. I was bowled out. So much for my attempts.

I then changed my attention to the barbecue. I had brought dates in bacon, and mushrooms with blue cheese! These were gratefully received by the crowds. And my office mate put a burger on the griddle for me. But we were about to start again! Oh dear.

 Action shot

Wicket repair...

A friendly PhD student offered to look after my burger while I took my place in the field. But no balls came my way. And soon the referee noticed we were with one person too many. I knew I could only stay in the field for some 30 minutes more, before I would have to go home to go to a mine from there. So I volunteered to leave.

I now had the chance to eat my hamburger. The enemy captain accused me of teasing the dogs. Maybe he was right. I took a few more pictures, and left. A slightly underwhelming first cricket match, but maybe I should sometimes join the local team. I'm not so keen on the waiting around, but whacking things and running around is fun! And then maybe I'll do better in the fateful match next year...

08 September 2014

Speak Welsh

So far I'd come away lightly. It couldn't last. I had spent pretty much the entire summer surrounded by written material from which I'd try to learn Welsh, but with nobody to practice talking with. But summer proper is over now, and the time has come to get up and speak. As scary as it may be! Just sitting and reading a book is all dignified, but trying to say something and no words coming out, or listening to someone and having no idea what they're talking about is a bit more confrontational. But it's the only way forward! So as soon as I knew she'd be back from her holidays I mailed the tutor. She had offered to meet me over coffee and practice my verbal skills. And she answered soon! And offered a time slot the very last day. I took it. In a rush of adrenaline.

She walked in and greeted me in Welsh. It was clear she wouldn't speak English to me, at all! She was even reluctant to speak English to the staff of the cafe we had chosen, even though our coffee was served by an Australian. So we set off! We first discussed what we'd been doing during the past weeks. And we discussed mine exploration. I now know the words for "diving", "gas" and "dead"! Oh dear. But what you get after stories like this are prominent in the news. Then there was a confusing bit where I just didn't get what she was saying, after which she asked me to tell her the story of my life. Suffice to say she got a concise version! My vocabulary is tiny. And then we were already running out of time. She pointed out some workshops to me I could participate in, and she brought up the topic of the Welsh Entry Level exam I could do. I'm up for it! And next week we'll do it again! It's bloody frustrating to be spoken to without any idea of what it all means, and to be desperately searching for words, and to say things of which you know they're not right as you utter them. But the only way of getting good at this is just stubbornly ploughing on. To be continued!

06 September 2014

Back to the lab

I was starting to feel like a lecturer! Spending lots of time in the office, preparing lectures, and not going to the lab. At all. But now the cruise is over. And we have six tonnes of sediment! And most of that has ended up in Durham, while the rest is in Edinburgh, but Bangor has at least a kilo. I brought the shells and similar stuff we had already sampled from the cores, and put away in a tupperware box for later 14C dating. And the bulk samples I wanted to wash out, to see if there would be small things we could date. Foraminifera, for instance. Or ostracods! So I could go back to being a postdoc, and get my hands dirty in the lab.

A new lab is always a bit of a hassle; you never know where things are, or how things are done. Where are the sieves? Is there an ultrasonic bath to clean them? What sort of containers are there to store samples in? Where are the fridges, the freezers, and how does one get access to them? Where are the chemicals, and where does the distilled water come from? Is there a radio? Is it someone's private possession? Can it get any decent stations? All these questions. But soon I'll have all the answers (I'm already mostly there, largely thanks to the spiffing man who runs the place) and soon I'll be at home there. It's a proper slightly run-down geeky academic little lab! And well, the teaching preparation will still have to be done, but nobody wouldn't expect that to not become a job for the evenings...

The wet lab, for sieving

The dry lab, for checking the samples