26 June 2016

Laugharne for a third time

Practice makes perfect! Going to the fieldwork in Laugharne for the third time would sure lead to the easiest ride yet. It would never get properly easy, though; the day the students spend doing “my” assignment is by far the longest. Nine hour days are pretty much a minimum, and we have had fourteen hour days. The tide decides when we go out in the field; 8 AM is an ideal time but sometimes the tide demands we go earlier (record so far: 4:45 AM) or later, although late isn’t good as that means the day also ends later.  And as we eat communally I don’t have as much control over my bedtime as I would like; sometimes dinner isn’t over until after 10PM, and that rules out an early bedtime. But at least I would be able to run the science bit smoother than ever.

This year I would come on the third day; I did not want to do the entire field trip, as it is quite a long time to take out of my day job. I did not want to let James do too much of it on his own, and this was a nice compromise. I hitched a ride with Connor, a sedimentologist, who happened to go at the same day. When we arrived, James’ students were still at it in the lab. It was a new lab; circumstances had prevented us from using the same chalet as the previous years. The new one was a bit small too! James was fine on his own so I had a nice evening for doing a review I had agreed to do, and for socialising with the other staff.

The next day it properly started. I took the students into the field. It was a nice group and the weather was nice, so all was well. In the lab all was well too; this was only a group of four so the lab wasn’t too overcrowded. One student was very confident and ploughed on rapidly, but first it turned out he had accidentally been picking quite some shells and snails, and later he also dropped his sample. His mood didn’t improve from that, but it didn’t drop dramatically low either, so in the end all was well; we were done at a reasonable time. All good! 

 The new chalet

 The lab seen from the table for two more students

The next day James took the students out again so I had the morning off. I decided to go for a run; the previous year Suzie had come up with a nice loop and I thought I’d run it again. I hadn’t bothered to check the map, though, and I took a wrong turn. With the help of some road workers I happened across I got back to where I came from anyway; at an unintended seven miles it had been a good run. After lunch James had to go, so I sorted out the students on my own. This time there were five, and one of the students knocked his sample so he had to re-arrange all his forams; he wasn’t done before 8:30 PM. By that time, both he and me were tired and ravenous. There was a barbecue for all that night; I got there and loaded up a plate without hesitation. Time for food and a beer!

The next day I had to take the students out again, as James wasn’t back yet. I was a bit sleepy, as an evening with dinner starting after 8:30 PM tends to end after 10 PM; the students had had a much wilder night though. This time I had a group of six, and they were rather rowdy; they got distracted by pretty much everything in the field. In the lab space was scarce, but the group was good. One woman struggled initially; she had some eye condition which made it very hard for her to do microscope work. She couldn’t really see the light bouncing off the forams, but she found out that if she put the sample in a glass petri dish, and she lit it from below, she could recognise the forams by their outline. She did really well! Things got even better when James arrived, and we could share the burden. I actually had a thirty minutes lie-down as I was tired. And the group was fast; the rowdiest of the men was good to go before 5 PM. A great score! By 7 PM all were gone. That evening as well saw the arrival of our reinforcement Maxine, who had done this fieldwork two years ago as a student, and had since finished her education by writing an excellent thesis about forams, so who seemed an excellent choice to help us out. 

Creatures on the mudflat

The next day the students would go coring; I would not be involved in that, so I had the whole day off. Or off microscope work, anyway; I had volunteered to cook, so I had enough to do. I went for a nice run (this time doing the actual loop) and caught up with data entry. I then did some PGCertHE work until the first vehicle came out of the field; it was the technician’s Isuzu. Maxine and I took it to Tesco’s; I decided to go make my famous (?) sauerkraut bake. I think many people were apprehensive but it was appreciated by all. All we couldn’t eat (it is rather filling) was eaten the next day as lunch!
The Monday was a proper day off; no foram work as the students were taken on a walk through the environment, and no kitchen duties. More PGCertHE work! And another run. And some recharging for the next two days, which would involve two days of six-person groups, no James, and unfortunately timed tides. 

On Tuesday we were back to normal. I took the students into the field at 9 AM; the tide was still quite high then, but I just took my time doing the improvised lecture in the high marsh; by the time I was done with that the tide had sufficiently receded. The group was fast; even though we were in the field rather late, all students were done well before dinner time. 

Summery activity in front of the main chalet

The last day would be a bit harder; we really couldn’t reasonably go after high tide; we had to go before it. We gathered at 5:30 AM. The marsh, then, was still foggy, atmospheric and cold. The students looked a bit miserable. We made sure to sample the low marsh first; by the time we got to the high marsh our earlier sample spots were flooded. 

After getting back to the chalets and sieving the samples I went back for second breakfast. The students came back at 9:30 AM to process their dried samples and start picking forams. With such an early start they were likely to end early too. Good! And they were all a bit tired; the whole field trip is tiring, and starting at 5:30 AM does not help, so they weren’t especially fast but the last one was done in the afternoon. 

With the last student gone we could pack up the chalet/lab, clean it, and get all the packed stuff ready for the technicians to pick it up. We were done in good time, so I seized the opportunity to go for a run. So far I had pretty much only run on the roads, as all public footpaths around seemed to have been heavily overgrown. Nobody down there seems to use them! Weird. But there was one public footpath on the map that looked like it doubled as a country road so I gave it a try. I think it hadn't been used as a road for a hundred years! It was a good run anyway.

A path I optimistically chose for my last run

That nigth dinner was later, which was unfortunate for two reasons. The first was that it had been an early day for me so I was tired. The second was cuter; the students appeared at our door with flowers and chocolate. So sweet! A lovely bunch. But we were still having our dinner so the situation became a bit awkward. It's appreciated though! But after the main course I went to bed. The next day would be another early start; there was a frame that had had instruments attached to it still on the sandflat. We needed to go get it, and it needed to be low tide, and low tide was at silly o'clock. Oh dear!

When we went to get the frame the weather was very atmospheric. Carrying the cold wet heavy scaff bars over the sand wasn't very comfortable but it was a good Thursday activity. When we got back it wasn't even 6AM so I went back to bed. 

 Walking into nothing to retrieve the rack

 Pulling out the scaff bars

At 8 AM I got up again to pack the last lab things (some had been drying overnight); just in time, as the technicians appeared to load it all up. That allowed us to try to restore the chalet to its original state (which we hadn't seen, as only James had been there when it did its transformation) and then go and have breakfast. I also made some sandwiches, and I took some of th eleft-over food. I would come back to an empty house very tired, so having some veg so I wouldn't have to go shopping came right in handy! And then basically it was a big wait until the students had cleaned up their quarters. It was 11AM by the time that was done! Then we could start the drive home. I was home at 5PM. By 6:30 PM I was struggling to keep my eyes open. The fieldwork was over. The next thing up: work the data, finalise the assignment, and run it! And let's hope all goes well...

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