26 May 2017

Another run along the coastal path

It's becoming a routine now! Driving in the general direction of Almwch on a Saturday to run a bit along the coastal path; start where I had stopped the previous time, and run west. I had already done the bit between Bay Dulas and Trwyn Eilian two weeks before, and Trwyn Eilian to Amlwch the week before, and now I would go west from Amlwch.

I parked where I had stopped the previous time and ran past the harbour, ran past the last bits of Amlwch, crossed the old railway, and got to the coastal moorland. Of course it was beautiful. I knew the route would get to the main road, and I decided to run that bit too, as that would have got it out of the way before next time. I reached Porthllechog, and saw a sign indicating a parking lot and a public toilet. That sounded ideal; I could do with a convenience stop (normally I find some bushes for that) and that parking lot could be my starting point next time. I visited both and went back. I'm organised for the next time!

24 May 2017

New reference collection

Nothing shows students what forams look like like forams. You can have pictures or pen drawings but the best thing is an example. During the June field trip we make the students identify a hundred intertidal and shallow subtidal foraminifera; it tends to be the first time they see the critters. We used to have a rather nice reference collection to take with us, so we could show the students what to expect. It also helped if they confused two species that look quite similar in a line drawing, but don't in real life. Very useful! But it moved with James.

I decided to make a new one. I had noticed we still had the forams the students had picked the year before; I could harvest these for that purpose. So when the marking was mostly done I went back to the lab. I hadn't seen forams for a while! It was nice to re-acquaint myself. And the more rarely encountered forams I had to forget about; I figured the original reference collection was based on quite a number of years of the field trip. But I have the most common types! And of the more abundant forams I made sure to make three slides each, so three students can look at that species at the same time. Of some species I only managed one or two. And if the students find more of the rarer species I can make a few more slides there and then. I don't know if this exercise will be kept going in the long run, but well, a reference collection is a joy forever. Might even take it with me if I have to go!

 Work in progress

What I'll make do with during the field trip (there are forams in there, honest)

23 May 2017

Small new mine

New for us, that is. We drive very, very often through Nant Ffrancon on our way to some underground venue or other. I drive through it for other reasons too. And pretty much as soon as you drive into it from the coastal side, you see a small mine on your right. You see some little holes in the hillside, and some modest spoil heaps. I had never been there. Neither had David. It turned out that Phil had; many years ago, with his then rather young son. They hadn't explored the entire place; that wouldn't be a good idea with a child. But now we would have a look! We chose this place this week as Phil could come but only if the venue wasn't too far away from Anglesey, where he would have been working during the day. And this place was perfect for that!

We gathered and changed. We chose some bolts and such for rigging the place. Then we set off! We had the dynamic due Dan and Flic with us; that doesn't happen very often. We walked to the entrance and slipped inside. Soon we came to a place we recognised from Phil's pictures; a hole in the ground with rails pendant above it. You could get past the hole thanks to the rails. It was down that hole we wished to go. And there was a continuation of the level a bit higher up, but it looked impossible to get to it, and trying meant risking falling down the hole. That needed more bolting. We had to first figure out where to place the bolts for both directions we wanted to go. David had brought a drill.

Walking up; as usual, Phil is racing ahead. 

Nice views from the way up. 

While David was pondering I explored ahead; there was the bottom of a shaft or winze there. And nice blue and green dripstones! But not much else.

David tried a bolt here and there but the rock wasn't very good. Neither were the bolts we had brought. In the end we decided to forget about going up, and go down by rigging from the rails. I was the first to go down. When I was only two meters down Phil said he wasn't happy with the rigging. He wanted it differently! Oh dear. It sounded like that needed more gear, and David would have to supply it, but I imagined that would lead to shouting again. He had just sat down with a cup of tea! And I was happy with the rigging. It is situations like that that give you practice in managing people. I clearly need it, as I should have let Phil sort it out with David and not get involved. I really hate being shouted at! But I didn't handle the situation optimally, addressed David directly and yes, I got shouted at. FFS. But we re-rigged and then I could just go down. Even on this dry day, there was a lot of water coming down the hole, so it was wet business, but I got down and could start exploring. I went left and found rather deep water rather soon. I wasn't quite dressed for it! Oh dear. Then the next person appeared: Dan, who was even more badly dressed to the occasion. We decided to walk into the level, though, until the end; it was blocked (surprise, surprise) and the water came up to my belly button. Cold!

Dan looks into the level; the water keeps getting deeper

When we went back I explored the other side, while more people appeared from above. There wasn't much on the other side. I passed the time by asking Dan and Flic to light up some pictures for me, and then I could go back up. It was a slight faff to get past a beam with large rocks perched on it, but I was OK. I was a bit cold though! I had a cup of tea with Mick who had decided not to go down at all.

Dan and Flic lighting up the level and a wood tub for me

The next person up was Dan, and then Jason followed. We were all cold (because wet) so Jason and I decided to go check the next level up; there we would find the top of the winze we had seen from below. Mick had gone to have a look while we were down below. We scampered up and took some pictures. There was a continuation of the level a bit higher up (deja-vu!), but you couldn't get there without risking falling into the winze (more deja-vu), and we were too cold to fancy getting the drill and bolting the place. And the rock here might be a bit iffy too. And anyway, the chance that there would be much ahead was slim. We took some pics and went back down.

 Jason in the top adit; the winze is in front of him.

More cold people had emerged from the level. We decided to skedaddle! When we got down to the road we had to decide if we wanted to check some level that allegedly was a bit further down the road. Dan and Flic were too cold and they went back to their car; we walked on. We couldn't find it! Oh well. Back to the cars. By then the midges were also coming out; time to change and go home!

22 May 2017

Fieldtrip preparation

In June we have a 10 day residential field trip in South Wales. I have been participating pretty much since the very beginning of my time in Wales. It is a trip during which the students do something else in the Taf Estuary every day; they do temperature and conductivity measurements in the water of the tidal river, they do geophysical measurements in a field, they core in a field too, they look at sedimentology and suspended sediment, and survey many transects over the estuary. We hope it all comes together in the end. They see this estuary system from all angles and we hope they get some holistic insight!

I always take them into the salt marsh during the first low water of the day; we take surface samples, and take these back to the holiday park where we stay, and there sieve out the fine materials and let the samples dry. After lunch the students come back, and then they are asked to sieve the samples and then pick forams from the sand-sized fraction. They have to identify them and have the identifications checked. That tends to take to dinner time! And sometimes beyond. These are long days. The students only do it once. I do it every day.

The trip used to be organised by Colin, but he is now the dean, and has other things on his mind. For the past few years it has been a spiffing lady called Suzie who organised it; she is some superwoman who manages to combine a full-time academic job with winning loads of gold medals in European rafting championships. And being generally lovely. But this year she's on maternity leave. Colin is back as the module leader but as he's still the dean, I was asked to do the general organisation this year. Eek! That's a lot of work. And as far as I know,Suzie has done this trip as a student, so she's seen all the different aspects of it. I haven't. And now I'm in charge! It's intimidating. I do my best.

The best thing that happened was that this year it was compulsory for fewer students than before. And many of those who now can choose have chosen not to go! I think that's unwise; I think it's a marvellous opportunity, but then again, it is a lot easier to organise if you're not stretched to the max with regard to space in the improvised labs, spaces in the vehicles, number of staff available for supervising all the field elements, etc.

We already have had meeting about who and when and how and such. I will soon have to print the handouts. I hope the technicians check whether the drill works. I am trying to get the students to tell me how they intend to travel there and if they have medical issues I need to be aware of.

The run-up is already scary, but being there will be too. The students will have questions on whatnot, and I will be the logical person to turn to. Except that I only know my own assignment. And I will be locked up in a lab all day. We'll see how it all pans out!

20 May 2017

Pile of marking sorted

I handed all the dissertations I had to mark back! And there were fifteen, not sixteen, as one student had an extension. I expect his work soon. It was quite a job but it was interesting! The topics varied widely, and so did the approaches the students took. It went from diving pinnipeds via jellyfish infestations and plastic pollution of the ocean to the effect of sediment transport on infrastructure in the Irish Sea and the effect of freshwater influx on the Gulf Stream. Never a dull moment! And of course, some students did better than others. And there were a few things I noticed: 1) my least favourite thing in a dissertation is a messy reference list; 2) many students struggle with the difference between affect and effect; and 3) many students struggle with the correct use of apostrophes.

I picked up some interesting anecdotal knowledge too: jellyfish are such a diverse group they cover two (or three, depending on your classification) phyla: cnidaria and ctenophora (and salphidae, if you wish). Imagine that! We are in the phylum 'chordata' with fish and sea squirts (zakpijpen in Dutch; I admit I think that is funny) and birds and reptiles and who not. If a jellyfish would do taxonomy, would they lump us with such diverse other creatures? Including those from other phyla? One likes to think not.

File:Triphyllozoon inornatum (Bryozoan) and Polycarpa aurata (Sea quirt).jpg
A sea squirt. Pic by Nhobgood. 

A northern elephant seal was recorded to dive to 1529m depth. Impressive! (Wikipedia mentions a southern elephant seal diving to 2238m; blimey! But that number does not seem to come from a peer-reviewed source) And weddell seals contract their spleen while diving, so the oxygenated blood in it becomes available to the rest of the body. This way they can dive deeper than they otherwise could.

That sort of stuff is well worth the pain of a literature list that is not in alphabetical order, is littered with non-peer-reviewed sources, or which contains only incomplete references!

And while I was at it anyway, I finished marking the Climate and Climate Change exam. It was done rather well! I would have liked to see it be done even better, of course, but this was OK. My new questions, as expected, weren't popular; the students have access to old exam papers, and clearly use them for revising, and new questions aren't in there so they don't revise on them. But maybe next year they'll be more popular.

Having handed these exams back means I have my hands free now for the upcoming field trip!

19 May 2017

Checking an abscure traverse

When I had been scampering around in our usual mine with the Yorkshire people, I had come across a chamber I had never been in. It had an atrocious ceiling. And there was one passage leading from it in the middle, and another passage at the far end. The one in the middle was pristine and lead to a solid-looking traverse I didn't want to do on my own; the level at the end was absolutely horrendous. I wanted to one day go back and check them. And the weather forecast for the weekend was terrible so I suggested we give it a go. I found David and Edwyn able and willing to come along; Phil and Mick were happy to go for a stroll to the entrance. David had suggested we visit some more remote recesses of the mine while we were at it anyway; that sounded cool.

We gathered at the Lakeside Cafe. The weather forecast had improved massively! It was not such a good day for a trip like this after all, be we were committed now. We had breakfast and parked somewhere, and changed. We had to carry a lot of stuff; two ropes and drilling/bolting kit. So be it!

We went to the entrance, said goodbye to Mick and Phil (and Millie), and went in. We went down to the traverse. I though David would want to bolt it but he wasn't too bothered; he thought a safety line of poyprop would be enough. Eh, OK! Works for me. We crossed, and found another chamber. It was the last one in the row. Oh well! Now we know. We also had a look in the horrendous level; as expected, that was collapsed in both directions. Time to go back and head higher up into the mine.

The traverse

 David and Edwyn admiring det boxes in the level behind the traverse

A view of the horrendous level

None of us had been in these regions, but David had printed relevant maps, and we had received some written instructions from Simon. We started making our way up! We went past our old friend the rock drill. It was looking good! And after the drill it started to become unfamiliar. The map helped. We found our way along. It felt really alien and remote there! Quite nice, as we spend so much time in this place, it's good to see it still holds many secrets for us.

We got close to the goal of our trip; a specific bridge. Near it we found a passage from which you could look a far way down; beneath us we saw the rock drill again, looking like a dinky toy! Cool! And then we got to the actual bridge. A beauty!

The bridge

The way on was along a traverse. I started off on it. Soon I wasn't too keen on it; the rock was featureless and the rope was slack. I made it along that bit, though. More difficult bits followed. That I was carrying a big bag with a 50m rope in it wasn't helping! When I came to the last stretch I struggled. You pretty much had to pull yourself up vertically without footholds! And with the heavy bag. I decided to use my hand jammer as an aid. And it got me there!

After me David came along, also with a heavy bag. He also struggled but made it. Then came Edwyn; his bag was light, and even he struggled. And he's Edwyn! I clearly hadn't done so bad. When Edwyn was across I started on the next traverse; that one was quite easy.

We then came to a chamber from which th eobvious way was down, but none of us liked the look of the rigging that was in place. After some sandwich-eating and comfort breaks we had to go and face our dislike. David went first; he went down the fixed rope to where oen could rig a pull-through. We thought it would be a very long pitch; maybe we had to tie both our ropes together. If so, we wouldn't be able to pull them through. We would have to come back one day and retrieve the ropes! But we had to get down first. David rigged the pull-through and tried to put himself onto the rope. The location of the anchor and the configuration of the fixed rope were awful! David struggled and it was scary to see. In the end he finally put his full weight on his stop. Then he slowly vanished. The good news was that one rope was enough. More than enough!

By this time I was cold, so I asked Edwyn if it was OK if I went next. I knew I would warm up again during the difficult getting yourself into the rope! And I was right. I managed to first end up dangling in mid-air from my stop, a cowstail and my hand jammer. But how to get the latter two off? You have to get the tension off these things before you can do that! Not easy if you're dangling in free air. You normally have attachement points for the cowstails, which are only safety measures, a bit lower down. That meakes it easier to have your weight on the stop and not on anything else. Oh well! With a lot of grunting I managed in the end to sort myself out and release all that needed releasing. Now I had to tidy up a bit; I had things getting in the way of my stop left, right and centre. I got them all hanging down and then I was supposed to be off. I wasn't.

It was David's rope; it is thick and stiff. And I was on a stop; they are not adjustable. If I pushed the handle with all my might I sometimes dropped at a very slow pace. Sometimes I didn't drop at all. I took the weight of the rope below me off my stop by hoisting up a loop of rope and clenching it between my knees; that barely helped. I tried force-feeding the stop and it barely helped. It is very frustrating to be in mid-air and not being able to come down the rope! Very, very slowly I came closer to the ground, moaning and sweating and swearing.

When I came to the point where you touch rock (but not yet ground) I decided I had enough. I put my ascenders on, got my figure of eight out of my bag, and threaded the rope through that. As these don't have a stop function it's a bit of a faff to get your weight off your ascenders when you're ready to lower yourself into them. I managed though! And then I was down in seconds. I really don't like these pitches that are more work going down than up.

Then it was Edwyn's turn; he struggled too, but got to us in the end too. We tidied up the ropes and went on; there was a next pitch down a slab. I did that on a figure of eight too! From there we weren't sure where to go; disconcertingly, the level went dead. Edwyn and David hadn't seen another way but I had noticed a squeeze into a chamber; that was the only other option. And it worked! David recognised it. It was the chamber between the one we had expected to come down into, and the one in which we had gone up. We were back!

We walked the rather well-known route back to lake level and came out in nice weather. It had got rather late but we were satisfied! We walked back to the cars and said goodbye to Edwyn. David and I ended by having a cup of tea at Mick's before going home. From there the message went out we were safe. People were keeping an eye on their phones in anticipation! We could reassure them.

By then the whole traverse, with which all had started, had been as good as forgotten! And if we ever want to do that pitch again we will want to do it only after re-rigging it a bit... And as far as I'm concerned: not on David's rope!

18 May 2017

Run the other way from the lighthouse

Last week I had parked near a lighthouse, and then run southeast from there. This week I went back to run the other way. This time it was beautiful weather all the way! I ran a smaller distance as by the time I reached Amlwch I didn't feel like running all the way through it to come out on the other side; I just turned around and went back. Midway I added an extra bit by running another path going inland, and back. Altogether I had run 70 minutes. Nice!

16 May 2017

Moonshining on a Thursday Night

Last week we hadn't been in the dig. And this week we may not get there either! Miles had injured himself again, and with too many arm injuries one might not want to a) go down a pitch (and back up) and b) do the sort of work we do in that dig. You can't really stop Miles lugging rocks around after you've blown something up. Might not be a good idea!

Circumstances made that easy; firstly, he had stuff to do in the manager's office; secondly, he had some unfinished business on the new route, at the level where you come in; and thirdly, he had to be out early.

When I got to the parking lot Miles was already up. I walked up, regretting my warm furry suit. I found Miles in the manager's office; it was looking better than last time! Especially the ceiling was looking smart. The windows were also coming along.

Miles had some extra big explosives for making a passage that forms part of his new route wider; the holes had already been drilled. We walked in; it was bigger already than it had been the week before! And a lot of loose rubble had been cleare dout. It looked really tidy. But now it was time to make it even bigger, and in the process, make it less tidy. That was more faff; Miles did have resin but there was no resin gun to be seen. We found one at the first zip line of the new route. There was a lot of kit there! We also took a pump, as the drill holes had filled with water.

When we got back up we set to trying to pump out the drill holes, and then place the charges and fill the rest of the hole up with resin, before they would re-fill again. We also rigged the place up. We had a brand new blast wire; it was a bit of faff to strip it to such extent it could be used. It was also rather short! Oh dear. These were big charges. Five of them. We just managed to get the end of the wire around a corner. Then I thought of the earmuffs we had seen at the zip line, but not brought up with us. I never think quickly enough! But at least I had earplugs in my suit. I had had these for months, but this was the first time I thought of them in time. Miles didn't want any; he would just use his fingers.

We drank coffee and tea while the resin set. We needed to be sure it was properly set with the big and wet drill holes! We blasted; I was happy with my earplugs. We inspected the damage but then it was already time to go out. The passage had been so tidy; now it wasn't anymore!

For the first time that year we came out in daylight. It was a lovely evening! After Miles had dropped me off at the parking lot and I had changed back into my civilian kit I stood there for a while; it was such a lovely evening! And it wasn't very late. It was a pity to go, but I was not dressed for another small hike and I knew that by the time I would be home, it wouldn't be quite that early. So I left. Next week back in the dig? It is waiting for us!

15 May 2017

Complex invigilating

I was asked to help invigilate the exam of the first year module I had taught on. The exam would be in PJ Hall; the rather glorious hall in the main building. That seemed a bit much. We don't have enough students to fill that up! When I went up there anyway a security guard tried to stop me; there were signs of "no entry; exams" everywhere. They only remove these when they're ready to let the students in. And I still  look like a student so I had to face this grumpy person before I could do my task. When will people finally assume I'm staff?

Once in I found out the size of the hall was taken into account; it turned out there were four exams there happening at the same time. Apart from ours, there was one from History, one from the Business School on investment banking, and one from the School of Linguistics on bilingualism. Interesting stuff! Except from the investment banking then.

For a start, the multiple exams required the guiding of all students to the correct part of the hall, where their exam papers were lying ready. That also took a while, so we started ten minutes late. A chap from the Business School read out the rules. The students from Ocean Science were in the back. We were the only school with a MCQ, so we were the ones likely to leave first. Sounds reasonable to seat us at the back, but all students who are finished have to walk to the front to hand in their work.

Halfway down the exam the other invigilator had to go, so I was on my own. And that was unfortunate, as ideally, there is someone at the front to check the work being handed in while another stays at the back to keep an eye on things, and to answer any student questions. That didn't happen! I hoped for the best regarding the handed-in answer sheets and stayed at the back.

As expected, our students were all done before time was up. When the last one was done I collected the question and answer sheets and went to have them checked out. And not all was well! One answer sheet was missing. We know who is in the room; all students fill out a piece of paper. If you match these with the answer sheets you know whose work is missing. And that's a lot of work; we had 91 students, and putting 91 (or 90) answer sheets in alphabetic order is more work than you may think. Reading the handwriting is also not always easy.

In the end we figured the missing sheet was by a student who had been behaving unusually. He had drawn lots and lots of attention to himself. Was that a coincidence? It's hard to know.

The ladies in charge of overall proceedings thought there probably was no answer sheet; the student had been too suspicious. I thought we should not draw any conclusions until we would have asked the other invigilators if maybe the answer sheet had ended up among theirs. The ladies said you could tell I didn't have 20 years' worth of experience with this sort of thing. Maybe I'm naive! But anyway;   if it would not be found among the other exams, it was really not there. Whose fault; ours or the student? We may never know. It's not the way it should be but one is fallible!

14 May 2017

First outdoor climb of 2017

It was already May and we hadn't climbed outdoors yet! Maybe some of us had on non-Monday night trips but I hadn't. Last year we started in April. I was glad to get the email that would change! And we would go back to Holyhead Mountain. I liked it there! The ancient quartzites have a lot of charm. But I should have known we would not go to the same place. The first outdoor climb of the year tends to be easy!

We gathered with four and lugged the kit to the hill. I was glad we found ourselves in the protection of the mountain; the rest of the world experienced a howling gale. We first had to set up a top rope. That's a lot of faff! While we were at it we saw Simon and his dog appear. He was doing his Mountain Leader qualification, and his elbow hurt, so he would just practice his leader skills.

I spent my time between helping set up the top rope and helping Simon by pretending I was one of his charges. And, I admit, I slotted in some flirting with the dog. He is cute!

Arriving at the foot of the mountain


Setting up a top rope

 In perspective

When the rope was ready Ika and I looked at it. She can be quite impatient too. We decided to go for it, even though she looked at the route and asked: "do we really need the rope?". We climbed it. But it was meant as a trad route; we then took turns trad climbing it, but with a top rope as safety measure as none of us were very experienced with that. When I had my turn, Eifion then went up to take my gear out; he said it wasn't placed that well but it would probably have held me. Not bad for a first time I'd say!

By then it was time to go. Simon and the dog had already gone; the dog was hungry, and had already made that point by staring intently at me, drooling into his chest hair, when I sat down to eat a sandwich. We de-rigged and walked back. It had been a nice evening! Climbing trad is not high on my priority list but I might ease into it anyway... it does open up a lot more possibilities!

12 May 2017

More coastal path

I wanted to go for a run again. I figured I should go and finally see the remains of a 4th century village I had wanted to see with my dad, but which hadn't happened due to flawed map-reading and communication. I didn't really see a good route around there, though, so I decided to go see it first and then go running a bit further north. A good idea!

I easily found Din Lligwy, the ancient village. It was quite nice! Then I drove on, and parked at the parking lot near Trwyn Eillian. From there I ran to the lighthouse on the promontory, and then back to where the coastal path goes west and then south. It was cold and windy, but running keeps you warm. And over time it got warmer. The sun came out! It was very nice. After about half an hour I figured I should run a little further as on the way back I wouldn't have the lighthouse detour and I wanted to run for more than an hour. I did a few 'I'll just run around the next corner so I get that view, oh no wait I will run to the next corner along...' until I found out I had missed a turn in the path and had run a short distance along an apocryphal path, which ended at a fence. I had then run 45 minutes, could see where I had been running before, and decided this was a fine place to turn around.

I ran back in the sunshine. The jumper came off! In the end I had run 75 minutes. Very nice! And I can do it again in the other direction!

The chapel of Din Lligwy 

Din Lligwy itself

The Trwym Eillian lighthouse; if you look really hard you can see the light begind the big window

The grim views on the way out

The happy sunny views on the way back

11 May 2017

Rhosydd on a sunny day

The forecast for Sunday was amazing. I thought I'd go into the mountains. Then an email came, on Saturday, from David; a friend of his had appeared and wanted to go underground. David had figured we could go into a mine that is quite a walk, as then we would spend a lot of time in the sun. That sounded nice! It's always good to do stuff with other people, and it's nice to help a friend out. And his choice of mine sounded good. I joined, even though I knew David tends to show a solid contempt for my other priorities in life.

We met in the Lakeside Cafe for breakfast. We had Phil with his dog, Don and Elaine with their dogs, Neal (the friend) and David and me. Elaine and her dogs would stay behind. Phil would only join us to the entrance and then turn back.

It was hard to find a parking spot on such a beautiful day, but we did. We then set off. I walked up with Phil and Millie with the others lagging behind a bit. The valley was looking stunning! When we got to the mine we sat down for a cup of tea, while Millie entertained us with her tireless dog activities.

 Cwmorthin being pretty

When the others arrived we changed, said goodbye to Phil, and walked in. We had a look left and right and went all the way to Croesor, the mine on the other side. They are connected on the inside. We also went up an incline I never had been up. It was nice!

The incline

 The device at the top of the incline

In the end we went out the Twll, which I also had done the first time I had done the CRTT trip, which is a bit of a faff but we managed. Then we had some lunch in the sun. It was already 5PM but well, let's still call it lunch.

From the Twll we took an old packhorse trail to the Stwlan Reservoir; I had never been there. It was an amazing route! The reservoir might have some ugly infrastructure and such but still, it was a nice view. When we got back to the cars it pretty much was 7PM. Of course! Time to go home. Another day tomorrow. It is a bit of a conflict; it's nice to go on a scamper with friends, but if I go alone at least I am home when I want...

Our lunch view

The packhorse track

Stwlan reservoir

Stwlan dam

10 May 2017

Try the new route

I mentioned before the mine we have our dig in is used commercially; Go Below offers guided adventure trips in there. And these are so popular they started to suffer from overcrowding, It was time to add a new route! Miles and his men had been working on it for months. It's a lot of work; for instance, sometimes they have to make a new traverse along a chamber wall. That means drilling a hole as far out as they can, putting in a bolt with hanger and maillon, attaching themselves to it, drilling the next hole as far sideways as they can reach, etc etc until they've reached the other way. I suppose putting in a zip line is a lot of work too. But they were as good as ready and the route was about to open. Miles had offered to take us to try it out. It would be foolish to decline! This sort of thing is lots of work and it's an honour too. So we went!

We met at the Go Below kit store as zip lines are best negotiated with a tandem pulley, and many of us (including me) didn't have one. Go Below customers get a harness with one standard attached. And long cowstails! I am always a bit hesitant about cowstails as my arms are short and if i would fall off a traverse and be caught by my cowstails on the hand line, I wouldn't be able to reach it. But I chose a full Go Below harness with all the stuff anyway. Later I would realise that was a great idea!

We got kitted up. As getting people past bottle necks like zip lines can lead to some waiting I was wearing my warm furry suit. It did mean I did not look forward to the walk up! Way too warm. But Miles offered as many as would fit in his car a lift. I was the only one who accepted the offer. At the entrance we waited for the others. The we went in. We went down a manhole and a staircase, and that lead us to the first new zip line. Miles gave us some instructions on how best to attach one to it and then we were off. It was great fun! On the other side Miles mentioned there were two ways on: a zip line and, in his words, a terrifying traverse. Most of us went terrifying! It wasn't so bad. I was happy with the long cowstails though; I should have known that Go Below hand lines are rather high, and that my own cowstails don't reach them.

David on the first zip line

Edwyn getting ready to follow

The way on was up some brand new steps, and then down another manhole, and then down more steps (new ones) and another traverse. We also went over a bridge that still had the original beams but which had been recently re-decked. We also went down a slab; Miles had said we didn't need descenders for it as you could hand-over-hand it. When he got to it he said 'this is not how I remembered it' and we started to organise our descenders. I borrowed one from Edwyn. I had believed Miles!

The steps up after the second zip (or after one zip and one traverse)

On the steps

Looking on the map; where are we now? 

Miles comes down the slab

When we were all down we had a cuppa and a sandwich. From there we could go all sorts of ways back. Edwyn picked one. We got to the corkscrew and I thought actually, going up it and then go out via part of one of the existent routes would be nice! More zipping! So we went for it. Miles did not have time for such frivolities and he said goodbye to us. He would take an efficient way out. He told us to leave our borrowed harnesses and pulleys near the entrance; he would pick them up the next day. So we scrambled up and across, crossed another bridge (or rather, a beam; no decking here) and found a few more zip lines. Fun! And then we proceeded to the exit.

Edwyn and Sharon keeping an eye on the next person to arrive by zip line

I think lots of tourists will have a whale of a time on that route! And I am glad we got to see it first. In June it opens to the public!

09 May 2017

New responsibility: peer guides

I mentioned it already: as the most junior member of teaching staff (on a very temporary contract too, so not in a position to be too picky) you can get lots of jobs shoved your way. Another one appeared; the job of peer guide coordinator. The original one, who also was on a temporary contract and who had no faith in the situation improving, had seized an opportunity at Natural Resources Wales and would leave. So I got her task!

Peer guides, by the way, are students who get paid to A) look after freshers during Welcome Week and B) help on open days. They are important! Without students we're nowhere, and the peer guides are involved in attracting them and making their student career start on a high note.

I had one meeting with Kate, the leaving lady, alone, in which she told what to expect. We had another one with one of this year's head peer guides. She was the only one of the four who could make it. Then I had a meeting with both this year's and next year's head peer guides to do the hand-over, None of the old head peer guides stay on! That's unusual. But at least we have some PhD students around who have been head peer guides in the past; they are willing to stand by with advice. I myself am full of good will but have no experience whatsoever. I too have external help if needs be; my colleague Jaco has been peer guide coordinator and is willing to dish out some wisdom if needed.

Just before Kate left she had turned down a peer guide applicant on the basis of low attendance. This student had appealed. So within minutes I had my first serious decision on my plate! I decided to go and meet this student and judge for myself. She convinced me she had had good reasons to be absent, and would be able to avoid absence during crucial times, such as welcome week. She's back in! I hope she'll do well.

I also had a meeting with the admissions committee. As the peer guide coordinator you're automatically part of that. After a lousy start where I was in the booked Meeting Room 1 when everybody else was obliviously sitting in Conference Room 1 we got down to business. We don't have enough peer guides for the upcoming open days; I have to use my charms to try and change that! A responsible job. Watch this space!

08 May 2017

Vote with little choice

Everybody is talking about the June general elections, but there also were local elections. For me these are more evocative as I actually get to vote. But for whom? I found out who the candidates were: two Welsh Labour people, three Plaid Cymru people, and one independent candidate. I googled them. No information. I had flyers in the letterbox from all of them but that didn't really help. They all promise the moon on a stick. I wasn't too sure of what to vote. Plaid Cymru has a reasonably good name when it comes to education; I decided that I would go for one of them. The Plaid flyer helped me choose one of them.

Then it was election day; I went to the polling station, where a man pointed out I could vote for three people. Three? That's half of them! But there are three council seats to give away, so you can vote for all three. You don't have to cast three votes, though. And in a way you should cast every vote you can but I figured that either I would vote without choosing by voting for more than one candidate, which seemed silly, or vote for all these Plaid people without making a distinction. I decided to vote for the one person I had picked. Later I thought that was stupid, but well, this time it doesn't make an enormous difference. No parties I really like were competing, no parties I really dislike were competing.

I was still contemplating this when I came across a concept I hadn't heard of; vote swapping. If you live in a constituency where your candidate doesn't stand a chance you can try to find someone (via internet, generally) who lives in a constituency where your candidate does stand a chance but theirs doesn't. You help vote their candidate in in your constituency and the other person helps vote in yours. I think this is mainly a general elections thing, but it could well also work for local elections. And it wouldn't have worked here, I think, as I think in my ward Plaid might sort of win by default, but I liked the idea!

So what was the result? I sort of said it; all three Plaid candidates were voted in. They each got 22-23% of the vote, with the independent person getting 15% and the Labour people 9% each. Two of them already were councillors last time. I hope they will represent me well!

07 May 2017

Bank Holiday Run

Monique left on Monday morning. It was not just any Monday though; it was a bank holiday! Which meant I had the rest of the day to fill as I liked. I decided to go for a run in the valley we had been looking down into the day before. I had spotted an old tramway and I figured that would be easy to follow, have a gentle slope, be even and have nice views. Sounded perfect!

It's a while to drive there, but at least I got where I had intended to start. It took a while to find the tramway though; from above things tend to be clearer. And once I found it I also lost it. I then ended up on a country road. I was wearing off-road shoes and here I was, on roads! And the tramway was nowhere to find. Oh well. I had an OK run. And the valley was indeed beautiful!

After some 75 minutes or so I was back at the car. I looked at the map; where had I been? It was easy to reconstruct; the public footpath left the tramway at a point where that country road was really close. Easy to end up on it if you can't find the unmaintained tramway anymore. Oh well. This valley had more to offer; I'd be back! But now it was time for lunch!

I drove down to the nearby reservoir; there was a picnic table there with a view on the water and the mine I had visited a few months earlier. Lovely! On the way back I also parked up the car to have a look at a nice slate mill ruin I had come past. But once I'd seen that it was time to go home. I had some chores to catch up with! My homework, for a start. After the Monday off it would be Tuesday, Welsh class day!

Lunch at the reservoir

The slate mill

05 May 2017

Visit by Monique

Next year we'll have been friends for 25 years! And this month I will have lived abroad for ten years. And this would be the first time Monique would visit me there! Originally, she would come in January, but then one of her dogs died and she postponed the trip. Now the moment had come!

On Saturday early afternoon I picked her up from the station. Great! I took her home and made her tea. She had had to get up really early that day, so we couldn't really do anything very strenuous that day. I suggested we'd have a scamper on Llandwyn island that afternoon. We had to see something beautiful! And we did. And all the while we caught up.

Posing on Llandwyn

When we got back we made dinner together. After dinner we talked a bit more in the comfort of my living room. But soon it was bedtime!

The next day we went for a more extensive adventure; I had suggested we'd go and see the Prince of Wales mine, which I had seen from Moel Hebog and which I had failed to run to. We'd walk from Rhyd Ddu. That is a nice distance, not steep (Monique isn't quite used to hills) and gets you into what I imagined would be a stunning valley. And she agreed!

After breakfast we went on our way. And it was a nice day! And the route was nice and clear and also very pretty. By the time we got tot the mine we were rather hit by the wind. We didn't go deep into the valley; Monique wanted to keep the amount of going-down-which-would-necessitate-going up-again limited. But we had a blast! But quite soon we turned back.

Some mining remains 

 Monique happy in front of a drum house

When we had Rhyd Ddu in sight again we sat down for lunch. After that we did an extra bonus mini-walk over the causeway as there was another mine on the other side, but then we went back to the car.

Once home we showered and then read a bit it was time to head for the restaurant. I had booked Dylan's; the sort of go-to place in town. The food was good! And we still had plenty to talk about. But after another cup of tea at home it was bedtime and thus pretty much the end of the visit. The next day she would take the 8AM train back to the airport. Too bad! But it had been a very good visit! And she promised to not wait ten years again. Do come back Monique!