25 September 2017

Welcome Week; a lot on!

I never before had much to do with Welcome week (or Freshers' week). The most I had done was deliver a so-called taster lecture during freshers' week. It's fun! It is one of these times when you don't have to think about learning outcomes and what is in the exam and how it connects to other modules: you just teach what you feel like. But this year would be different, with my new responsibility.

Another change was that this academic year, I would have tutees from the beginning. Last year I took over James' in the second term. Now I got a group at the very start! And they get to meet their tutors on the first day. My new group is a nice bunch! And they seem a bit less shy than last year's batch. I look forward to working with them!

Before I got to see them I was preparing for the new term in my office. About  three times, some Head Peer Guides appeared with an issue of sorts. I tried to addrress it all! I have to think on my feet as I have never done this before but I think it all worked out.

On Tuesday the Head Peer Guides got on with it. I did get an email, though, during the first Welsh class of the year. Oh dear! There was an issue from the last day that hadn't gone away. On Wednesday I tried to sort it. It was a lot of mailing and texting and phoning around.

Then Thursday came and things got better; it was the day of the annual beach trip. I had never joined before, but lots of other people had: the Head Peer Guides, of course; the two technicians who came as support; and David who came to photograph the event. So I didn't have to do much! My biggest job was juror in the sand castle competition. The freshers are divided in groups and have to make a marine-themed sand sculpture; the staff judge them. They have to tell the story of their sculpture. There were sharks, octopuses, mermaids and whatnot; the winning sculpture, however, was rather unusual in both that is was a living person on a sand throne, and that the person depicted one of my colleagues as an insane homicidal maniac with magic powers. The colleague in question would have seen the humour in that and they won.

Early in the day, it was quite overcast. Here the students have been subdivided into sand sculpture groups. 

The winning sculpture

After the scultpures the students did a tug-of war. Quite a lot of the teams were very competitive!And in the meantime, the weather improved. It got really sunny! The jacket went, and so did the jumper; sunglasses took their place (or at least a nearby one).

 Fanatic tugging-of-war

The second-last task set was to take a big PVC pipe with holes in, place it in the sand, and fill it up with sea water. That means: preventing the water to percolate through the sand, plugging the holes, and somehow carrying water from the sea (they can't use bottles or suchlike). It is essentially a team-building exercise. Many wellies were filled up with sea water!

Plugging the holes with sea weed

Filling your wellies with sea water

The last task was marine pictionary. Then it was done! People were free to loiter for a bit, until it was time to get back to the buses. It took a while to verify we indeed had everybody; then the day was over. As far as the freshers were concerned, though. I went back to the office! A lot to do.

On Friday I saw them all for the last time; there was a programme that included a person from the Student Union talking about, well, the Student Union; a person from the Sustainability (you can guess what she talked about), and then taster lectures. As said before; they are just lectures about something pertaining to Ocean Sciences that you feel like talking about. I enjoy doing my lecture. I had also roped in the Head of School, and two (other) biologists. One had volunteered; that was Sarah, a cephalopod behaviourist; and James, who studies charismatic megafauna like dolphins. You can guess why I asked him!

When the taster lectures were over, the Head Peer Guides would tell the students some more useful stuff. I was off, though! I gave them all a hug and left. I think it was a good welcome week! And yes there is still an issue to sort out, but well, that's minor as far as I am concerned. And all Head Peer Guides were quite knackered by now, but they go out pretty much every night and I don't. And next week we'll evaluate the whole thing! I hope all agree with me it went well...

24 September 2017

News from Svalbard

In Norway there is some strange law that says you have to give job applicants information on who else has applied. I assume there is a one month limit; when I applied for the job on Svalbard the deadline was August 15; I got the list of applicants on September 15th. So now I know! And three things were remarkable: first, that there were only 8 applicants. Second, that one of them was nowhere close to having the qualifications that were given as required. Some people will just try no matter what! But that's one down. And third: one I knew. He has worked here in Bangor before, and regularly comes back, for reasons of science, practicalities and friendships. I'm not sure if I can take the likes of him on! But one way to find out. It will take the Norwegians forever to make a shortlist. It would be nice if the chap I know and me are both on it; we could go and do some Svalbard scampering together maybe! I mailed him already and he thought it was a good idea. I'm sure we can resist the temptation to feed each other to the polar bears in order to reduce competition...

 Longyearbyen. The big building on the left is the university building. Pic by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

22 September 2017

Wedding Abi and Adam

When I was in York I had lovely friends. I was only there for a year but blimey did it make an impression! One of them was a tireless PhD student called Abi. She had a lovely (but more understated) boyfriend called Adam. I had been to her birthday once while already living in Bangor. And now she would do something much more memorable than having a birthday: she and Adam would marry! And I got invited!

I had to first sort out how to get my hands free for it. I hinted before at that this wedding would fall within Welcome Week, which has a weekend component as during the weekend the students move in. I'm the peer guides' emergency contact! But I wouldn't answer phones in a wedding ceremony. My colleague Andy volunteered to cover for me. What a sweetheart! So I could go.

I drove up. When I got close I saw the landscape was beautiful. And so was the venue! Initially I didn't see anyone I knew so I just introduced myself to the first two people I saw. But then a man appeared: it was my friend Tom! It was great to see him again. And then I saw Owain. And Sian. Lots of familiar faces! Great! Nobody had changed a bit (except Owain having a beard now).

After a while the ceremony started. It was beautiful! I tend to reverberate strongly with social atmosphere, so in an emotional setting like a wedding ceremony I get swamped with feelings. As I did now! They were both very beautiful and very sweet.

Later there were pictures, and dinner, and speeches, and all the usual ingredients of a wedding. Lovely! I also greeted Abi's family; I had met her mother, of whom Abi had once said she has two settings: very happy and asleep. True, as far as I can tell! And now I also met her father. She looks like him! And he is a wheelchair user these days but clearly won't let that get him down. For his speech he stood up against the wall, upon which Abi barricaded him in with a chair so he wold be able to remain standing for the duration of his speech. It's such a cheering family. And now Adam, who has been described by Abi as having the face of a Quokka on the body of a seal, is joining them. He'll be quite happy I'm sure! And so will she.

 Posing with the bride

After dinner there would, of course, be a ceilidh. Abi is (apart from a fisheries scientist and a school teacher) a folk fiddler. I like ceilidhs! Although most I have done were ceilidhs for the sake of ceilidhs, so everyone there wants to dance. Very easy to find a partner! But here everyone was there for the wedding, and dancers were harder to come by. The disadvantage of going to a wedding on your own! I had to miss quite a few dances due to lack of partner but, mainly thanks to the York bunch, I got to join enough of them. The last dance I even formed an inventive 'couple' of three with Tom and Sian. It worked!

The first dance

When the dancing stopped I started saying my goodbyes. It was getting late, I was tired, and I had to first drive to my accommodation and then all the way back the next day. And then snap into peer guide coordinator duties immediately afterwards. It was sad to say goodbye to all these folks. But it had to be done at some point!

I am sure Abi and Adam will have a lovely married life! And I hope to see them again. Not in the too distant future this time!

My view the next morning

20 September 2017

A ceremony and a teaching qualification

The new academic year is again upon us. And tradition has it there is the annual teaching conference just before it. I like seeing if anyone has some nice bright teaching ideas, and I also like making sure the teaching boffins don't forget me. And this year I was hoping to get my teaching qualification at the conference dinner; that's the occasion for it, with smartly dressed people and glamour and all of that. I knew (since May) I had passed but I hadn't heard since; would I even get one at all this year? I tried to find out what was going on but those supposedly in the know shrouded themselves in vagaries. And just the day before I finally had got some concrete information: I wouldn't get it now. She didn't know when I would.

I listened to some presentations. The practical applicability this year wasn't all too high, but at least there was food for thought. Not so much food for the stomach, though; it was a multi-tasking day with the lunch break being consumed by an SOS meeting about teaching. We did get time to go and quickly grab some food, but I would have gone for more liquids, and perhaps seconds, if I had had time... at least the meeting contained good news.

The keynote speaker in action

During the keynote lecture I was contacted by one of the underground men, who happens to be the person who prints the T-shirts for all the peer guides of the university. He had a second batch for me! The peer guides are on duty for an entire week, and wearing the same shirt for that amount of time, especially if nightclubs are a distinct possibility, can lead to interesting odours. I had failed to check that those who placed the order knew that. They didn't! Hence the late order. So that pulled me out of the conference again.

After the last plenary session I scampered to the main building, retrieved the original batch of T-shirts I had dropped off there, and took them to Pontio for a meeting with the peer guides. Nobody showed up. Oh dear. I texted a head peer guide; I was in the wrong building! Oh dear. And if you have enough T-shirts (I was carrying 56 polo shirts, and additional booklets, flyers, badges, and whatnot) it gets heavy! And where did I have to go to? The main building of course! But some peer guides approached me and helped me carry. Very sweet. And the meeting went well; the head peer guides have everything under control!

After the peer guide meeting I had some time before the dinner; I used it for drinking my body weight in water, and waxing my hair. I had washed it the night before, but then it should be waxed too; preferably before my two upcoming smart occasions. Then I was off to the venue. I biked up, went into the loos, and changed into a sparkly dress. I was ready! I immediately found my colleague Tom; the only other person from SOS that I knew would be there. We expected Lynda, a lady from geography, later.

 Me being glamorous

It was a nice dinner! I had the veggie option and the starter was excellent. I was less keen on the next two courses but the starter had been so big I couldn't finish these anyway. And I could drink as I had come on bike. And it was nice to catch up with Lynda and Tom, and to meet the lady (from psychology) on my left. She was with her boyfriend who was a historian; I had met him before at teaching-related events. And he was a Welsh speaker! That's always nice.

 A man from learning technologies, who is always willing to help me if needed, gets an award

After dinner the awards were handed out. Tom and Lynda did get one (two completely different ones, but still). At least I got to cheer for them! And as I had a wedding the next day I left when the awards were done. I wanted to get a good night sleep for the upcoming long day!

When I got home I found an envelope on the doormat. I was curious. It looked a bit like a certificate. And bloody hell, it was. That was a bit of a bummer! They clearly had it ready. Why not give it to me at the ceremony? That is so much more memorable. But at least I have it now. Will be good when applying for jobs!

There it is! Somewhat funny; a certificate of higher education in higher education...

19 September 2017

Annual dig

Before our current dig was THE dig, there was the dig in a windy valley in the west. We had entered a mine at the bottom and steadily made out way up, in the end reaching a shaft or a winze (the difference is whether they reach the surface or not) that was filled up with loose gunk. We had had several sessions of digging out as much gunk as we could get to, and then leaving the place to itself for a while. The next time our digging action would have lead to destabilisation of the gunk, and more would have come down. The idea is that sooner or later the gunk will run out, and then we can happily clamber up and colonise that part of the mine too! And the last session had been a while. I had not been there (I had been in the other dig then) so I was keen to see what the situation was!

David had suggested this venue and not many people seemed keen. I did expect that; the place has a bad name. It is true there are two entrances, and one has crotch-deep cold water, and the other one has lots of stuff the farmer has dumped in, such as empty fertiliser bags, and sheep bones; one assumes the bones were connected to the rest of the sheep when they were placed in it. And the previous time, a fresh carcass was found. Doesn't do much for popular appeal...

We drove to the usual lay-by and were the first. We changed. Then a car appeared; it was Paul! I had hardly seen him since he had acquired a job on the Snowdon railway. He wouldn't come with us (he hates the place); he just popped by to say hello. Nice!

We went in (through the bottom entrance; that way avoiding the carcass) and clambered all the way up. With just two people there is hardly any waiting involved! We got to the top. I stuck my head in the bottom of our winze, and then made the rest of my body follow. There was even space enough for David to join me.

I knew David expected to find the shaft as good as empty, and showing the way on. He expected a side passage, and another winze from there. But there was nothing in sight. There was still a lot of gunk, all stacked against the far wall, and you could only see up to a big boulder. No side passages. And there is no reasonable way to safely dislodge a boulder from a position like that as you HAVE to work underneath it. Oh dear!

 Looking up in the winze

We decided to just do what we always do: digging away all the gunk we could (safely) reach. After some hard work the pile of gunk started to throw stuff at us. Good; we've clearly destabilised it further! Time to go.

We had to kick everything down the next passage too; there is hardly any space here and you don't want to block you passage, or perch a big load of unstable gunk on top of a rope pitch. When that was done we made our way out. And early night! As usual, I didn't mind that... and we can only go back in another 6 months or so to find out if we have any change of getting to the next passage with our current method. If not; well, then we have had fun!

18 September 2017

Academic exodus - but with hope

There is a sort of myth that once you work at the School of Ocean Sciences, you never leave. Maybe you leave for a while, only to come back, but nobody leaves for good. Except those who retire, of course. But James broke that myth. And he seems to have set something off.

The next person to leave was Kate. She saw another opportunity elsewhere and decided to leave the sinking ship. I took over her job as peer guide coordinator. Then Cara left, without even having a job to go to. I didn't have much to do with her but she is very nice. And now she's gone! We had a small leaving do for her.

Dei raises a toast to Cara

Two more have revealed they will leave; my office neighbour Andy, who is a marine biologist and a man heavily involved in recruitment and such, and Coleen, who has been a running mate and who since very recently has been married to Andy. They will seek their fortune abroad. That's five people leaving voluntarily! And I am replacing James but only for one more term; I don't think Cara and Kate have been replaced, and there are three professors about to retire and I suppose the policy is still to not replace people. But at this level of loss things would become unsustainable. There is already a bit of panic; who will do the jobs of all these people who leave?

On the Teaching Conference (write-up to follow) we had a small meeting with those who do teaching and no research. It was a bit of a sorry meeting in a way; it dealt with the future, but whose? Present were the Head of School; Dei, the teaching coordinator (I suppose this position has a better title but this describes things sufficiently), and all the available Teaching and Scholarship staff. One was not there due to maternity leave. That left Sarah (all good), Coleen (with two terms to go) and me (with one term to go). Strange bunch for a meeting on the future. But David, the Head of School, said he had indeed been given green light for hiring some people and would be advertising jobs in January or so. That's good news! And I am sure most of these jobs would be for biologists but one can hope...

17 September 2017

To be inclusive or not to be inclusive

It is important that we cater for students in all kinds of circumstances! So of course we cater for the standard white English 18-year-old. And for slightly unusual white English 18-year-olds. And non-white English 18-year-olds. And non-English students. And Students of any age. And people who are slightly unusual students of any colour, any nationality and any age. And I hope that means we do not only take their money but really welcome them. All the same? Well, no, that wouldn't really be catering for everyone, as not everyone is the same. We do, for instance, give mature freshers another mature student as a peer guide, as we think 18-year-olds are different from people in their late twenties (as quite a lot of the mature students are) and even more so from people beyond that age. And that is only one aspect of not being standard white English 18-year-old, and I will restrict myself to it, so already in this blog post I am not being particularly inlcusive as I ignore all people with, say, dyslexia, a wheelchair, a native language other than English, or the desire to pray five times a day, even on fieldwork, just to name a few. But one thing at a time. We want to welcome all students and give them the attention they need.

One of the things mature students more often have than 18-year-olds is children. I think it is important that having a child should not stop you from going to university. We can't make it easy to juggle a child and a university degree, as it would be impossible to make juggling only a child easy in the first place, but we should try to work it out with student parents if some difficulty arises.

Then I was faced with a peer guide who wanted to bring her child to Welcome Week activities that take place after school. And as said, I think that it is important we cater for students with children. And I understand you have to keep your rather young child under supervision somehow, after the school releases it, but this posed a bit of a n issue. She is a peer guide, she is here to guide the freshers! How much attention do you have for them if you are looking after your child? We should make an effort to show new students the way in their new life, and not have an overwhelming other priority. So how to be inclusive to both the peer guide-annex-parent AND the freshers she looks after? I tried to strike some balance. There actually aren't an awful lot of post-3PM-afternoon activities. There are two; we have deemed that the first one (a games and quizz session) is so child-friendly she can just take the kid; depending on how that goes we will see about the second one (crabbing on the pier). By then the head peer guides will know the freshers and can gauge their view on including children in such activities. 'We' by the way is the head peer guides, the university-wide peer guide coordinator, the college H&S man and me. I suppose life is all about such dilemmas! I both hope this was a good decision AND that I get better at this...

14 September 2017

Run turns into fox mission

It was time for another long Saturday run! I would go and help Guy and Kate with painting their garden house though, so I didn't want to go too far away. Going on where I had left off last time on the coastal path would take too much time. I decided to just look for a nice loop on country roads nearby. I found a nice one near the Mona Showground. I drove to Gwalchmai, parked, and set off. I had brought the map and needed it to negotiate the actual village. I then overlooked a junction, but quite soon realised it, and corrected myself. After a while I came to a road to the right; I didn't think I needed that. That would be a fateful mistake. It actually was! But as I thought I remembered I didn't need that junction I just plodded on.

It was a nice day! Or rather, a nice part of the day. The landscape was unassuming but really beautiful anyway. I ran to a T-junction; that was as expected. Then I expected a right turn soon. It didn't come. Then I reached a bigger road. Oh dear! The map came out. Then I noticed I should have taken that right turn ages ago. No w I could only reasonably turn around and run the same way back. I didn't want to run along that bigger road!

I turned back. All was well. Then I suddenly saw a fox in the side of the road. It seemed to be running away from me. I moved closer, hoping to see it bolt across the field beyond, but it was still there. It seemed trapped! Oh dear. I couldn't quite see how and didn't want to approach too much; the fox would flail and charge and wrestle when I got close, and that tends to result in awful injuries in a trapped creature. I pondered a bit. What to do? I figured freeing it would require at least gloves and pliers. I don't carry those on a run. I ran on, got into the car, drove home, and googled animal rescue. After some faff I got through to the RSPCA. They wondered if the fox may have got away unaided. Could I get back to it? Eh, well, yes. I texted Guy and Kate I would be late. Then I packed a water bottle and something to read and got back into the car, this time parking close to the fox. It was still there! So I phoned the RSPCA again. They said they would send someone. I explained to them where it was; I had noted down the grid reference but they were working off Google Maps. Oh well, that works too. I explained where it was and waited for half an hour. The RSPCA person had said they couldn't say when an inspector would appear. I read for half an hour and then left. I got home and really quickly ate something (it was already 3PM!) and had a shower. Time to get to that garden house!

The road with the fox

When I was about to get onto my bike the phone rang. It was the RSPCA person! He struggled to find the fox. I guided him towards it. I had memorised quite well where it was, including landmark trees and flowers! I got him to it. I had thought the poor thing was caught in a fence, but it turned out to be a snare. The local farmer must have had fox-and chicken-issues! Oh dear. But the RSPCA bloke would not leave the poor creature there. Then he hang up and I went down the hill.

When I was explaining to Guy and Kate what the fox business was all about the phone rang again. He had freed the fox, who was unhurt, and had scampered off. Success! It was nice of him to phone me to confirm that. And then we could finally get on with that garden house. This day didn't go as planned, but a poor fox has been spared a lot more time in a terrifying snare! And the garden house got painted too! (Except for the ceiling as we ran out of paint!) And I still can do the route I had in mind in the first place...

12 September 2017

Bungling in the dig

We had three nights in the dig in a row! A luxury. The previous time we had not had explosives, so we had had time to drill lots of holes. This time we did have explosives, so we could go and fill all these shot holes and have (literally) a blast!

We went in and got started. I had suggested Miles charge the shot holes while I take the drill up and drill some more holes higher up. If we would blast all shot holes Miles had made the week before, the vertical passage would be wide enough for him; then it would be time to make the ceiling-parallel passage big enough too. So I lugged the heavy thing up. I had a look; I decided the first tight bit would be sorted by one well-placed charge in a ceiling slab that had come down. I drilled the hole and moved on. Then there was a sticky-outy rock; this one did serve a purpose as a landmark and as a barrier for rocks I would throw out of the working end to slide down and clog the passage lower down. I put a shot hole at a level where I thought I would be able to get past easier without it losing its barrier function. Then I moved on again.

I went to the far end. There was one slab on the side there that stuck out a lot. I gave that a shot hole too! Then I went into the hole I was digging. One rock on the side was in the way. I started drilling it, but it started to move! It slid onto my foot. Oh dear. Another reminder of why it is important to make sure Miles can get here. I managed without though, and got it off my foot without dropping it on my hand. I proceeded carefully! I had another rock in mind for drilling. This one stayed put but split. Oh well, if I can take it apart with the hammer function then even better I suppose. But then I heard Miles call. I went down to talk to him.

He had been loading the shot holes but was running out of resin. He figured he might go and get some more; there should be some at lake level. In the meantime I would make my lowest shot hole a bit deeper (Miles handed me the longer drill bit) and fill up the shot holes higher up. He handed me the stuff and vanished. I deepened the first hole and set out to charge it. I had to first blow the drill dust out of it; Miles had handed me the blow tube. But it was blocked! Oh dear. I had a look; there was resin in both ends. Miles, what did you do to that thing? With a pointy bit of slate I managed to unblock the one end. The other end was more of an issue! This just wouldn't work. I went down. I knew we had a knife there; I would have to cut off the end!

I tried not to cut off too much; in the end I had an opening again. A narrowed one but maybe it was enough. I also brought some more charges up; I would need a really short one and Miles had not given those to me. I went back up and tried again. The blowing power wasn't enough yet. Oh dear! I blew out the first hole without the tube, charged it, and stemmed the hole with the last resin we had. The nozzle had clogged up so I had to use a new one. This wasn't going very efficiently.

Then I heard Miles return. He hadn't found any resin! He had found the other Thursdaynighters, though. That's nice too! And I remembered we had some stemming in Generator Chamber. Miles went to get it. And to unblock the tube. I spent my time trying to open out a passage at a right angle from the original one; there was a big open space I could see. Maybe it was cool to explore? And if stuff would go wrong, maybe it could be an emergency exit.

Miles came back and I was back on. I filled all the shot holes we had left, and then it was time to set them off. We would start at the top and work our way down! I couldn't link the two top ones (too far apart) so I had to do only the very top one. I clambered down and set it off. We then had a coffee. Then it was time to wire up the next one! It was tiny; I just went around the corner and shouted to Miles he could go and set it off. Nothing happened! Oh dear. I checked the wire. All good! WTF? Oh well, we had the whole lower batch to go so let's forget about that one and move on to those. Time was running out!

I wired up all the lower charges (only the ones in the vertical passage; the other one didn't reach either) and went out. Miles would set of this round. He checked the resistance; that was, as expected, a lot. Then he pressed 'fire'. Nothing! Of course not; he hadn't charged the detonator. What is that; Miles not being able to blast? I asked him if that was why the previous blast hadn't worked. A guilty grin appeared on his face. That was enough answer. He charged the detonator and tried again; success! Then we did a final round in the slab that had come out of the ceiling a few weeks ago. It was in the way. By then it was almost time to go; I stuck my head into the vertical passage and saw it was indeed nice and wide now. Good! We would have quite some tidying up to do though. Next time. When we could also set off the two left-over charges! But that wouldn't be in a while; Miles would go on holiday. And then when he would be back we could also finally bring down the dangly slabs at the entrance. If they haven't done it themselves by then!

10 September 2017

Term approaches

It's September, the long summer of reasonably leisurely lecture preparation is over! Now I have to make sure all my module websites are updated, all assessment is designed, all organizatory (that's in the OED! Honest!) things are in order... It's a  lot of faff but it's fun too. I tend to find it a bit like a juggling act, when you have to keep all these plates (of the various modules, the various module aspects, and the various other things on your plate) in the air. And it's still calm with no students around, but as soon as they appear I have to snap into action.And the meetings are already starting before that! So summer is over. Bring on my last term at Bangor University!

07 September 2017

Brief family visit

Normally, I visit my mother on her birthday. Last year I didn't; I came a week early because I thought I had a wedding on the day itself. I didn't! Wrong year. So this year I would have that wedding. And I'm involved in Welcome Week. Does that combine? Well, not really, but more about that later. First things first! My atypically early September visit to the Netherlands.

The Netherlands from the train

My main goal was, as usual, my mother, but while I was there I decided to see some more family. Only family this time; it was only a short visit, with term coming up and all. So I lined up my sister and her family, and my father and his wife too. No others this time!

Seeing my mother was as usual. That sounds unspectacular but it just always is good! And we tend not to do anything spectacular but I like just having a glass of wine together and catching up. And I tend to go for a run in the nearby woods.

The woods next to Amersfoort where I ran

Seeing my sister was pretty much as usual to; I just bumbled in at an arbitrary moment and was given a cup of tea. Family members appeared and disappeared, were bickering one moment and harmonious the next, were hyperactive or asleep, joined us on the moors or stayed in front of a computer, and all the sorts of things happening in a family of five. Including an increasing number of teenagers. They'll be back to school by the time I write this!

 The moorland near where my sister lives

Seeing my father was not the usual thing; I wanted to take the opportunity to continue the recent developments in forcing a closer bond. Only recently my father had visited me, together with my sister, to discuss some things that had not gone entirely well in the past. I never used to talk deep things with my dad. But now the process has been started (thanks to my sister) and I like it! This time we went for a walk near the Oldenaller mansion (near Putten). It was lovely weather, the walk was beautiful, and the discussion good! I'm liking this new version of fatherhood.


Father-daughter picture

An unexpected beauty we encountered on our walk - a water buffalo!

Soon it was over again! And I headed to the airport again with cheese and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) in my bag. And the usual dose of good memories. My last foreign travel until term hits!

05 September 2017

Through the smoke flue into the dig

We would have an unusual two weeks in a row in the dig! Which is good; we still had some damage limiting to do after the slightly excessive blasting of three weeks before. The week before we had cleaned up a lot of the mess but there was more work to do. We wouldn't have explosives but we would have all the rest!

I had asked Miles to take me in through the Smoke Flue; I had only been in it once before, and I couldn't remember where you come out if you go in that way. That also means I couldn't find the way out to it. And it's locked, but still. And so that was our way in! Now I know.

View from the entrance of the smoke flue

 The smoke flue itself

When we got to the dig we saw the two scary dangly slabs were still there. And Miles had brought a rod to support a rock that needed supporting. He started out putting that in place while I went up to the far end.

I started to tidy up in the open space near the working end. I pretty much have to throw everything I get out of the growing passage into it, but that clogs up my exit! And when I figured it was tidy I went on trying to make progress. I started with my bare hands. Then I brought in the crowbar. Rather large rocks were willing to come down! Progress!

I came down to see how Miles was doing, and to have a cup of tea. The rod was preliminarily in place! And now he was tidying up at the bottom. But he was up for a cuppa too.

After the break I suggested he take the drill and start working on making the vertical passage bigger, so he fits through. I am a bit nervous about working there night after night without him being able to get to me if things go wrong! And I was soon reminded of how easy that can happen; I was handling a rather large rock, and I almost dropped it on the fingers of both my hands. Oh dear! I sorted it, but imagine I do trap myself that way. I would really want Miles to be able to get to me and lift it off! So I was happy to hear him drilling behind me, and content to continue myself with only a crowbar. There is a lot you can do with just that!

After a while I figured it might be time to come out. I turned around and could see the Drill! Miles was at the ceiling. Excellent! If he can get to the ceiling-parallel passage next week we are doing well.

 The current state of the far end

We went out (the usual way) and into the moonlit night Nice! And Miles' car had some issues and was down at the parking lot so we walked back down in said moonlight. It's such a beautiful place! And next time we'll probably be able to bring the scary slabs down. That would be good!

03 September 2017

Don't pay the energy bill, part II

Success! I fought off the debt collectors. That was the people who were after me for an energy bill from my Plymouth address, but from the time after I had left. I sent them letters from my York and Bangor letting agencies which confirmed I had rented from them when I had. Then they fell silent. I gave them a week; then I mailed them again, saying I expected them to confirm they had the wrong person, and back off. As so far they had not really paid heed to what I had told them I added that I had already downloaded the code of conduct of the Credit Services Association (which these people were a member of), and a complaint form. Which was true! I knew I could challenge them on various points in that code of conduct document.

A few days later I received an email; they accepted the energy bill was not mine and they would contact me no more. Hurrah! Justice at last. It's a bit typical of me; if I get a letter like that I get a bit upset, but give me enough time to ponder the situation I get assertive. And assertive enough! I'll keep that email; who knows, they might try again in a few years...

02 September 2017

Not underground - voluntarily

I like going underground! And I like the people I tend to go underground with. But I don't like being shouted at. And unfortunately, I do get shouted at underground. A lot. And it's always David. And as long as he refrains from shouting I am quite fond of him. But he shouted at me at the beginning, and he shouts at me still. I am sure it has got more frequent; maybe he's stressed about his job? The more he shouts at me the more it hurts. It's like being punched in the same place again and again. The first one doesn't hurt too much, but it gets worse and worse. I tend to leave the shouting out of my trip reports but sometimes I include it, like here and here. And I haven't manage to do anything about it in general. There was one trip in which I addressed him after the shouting and said he hadn't made things better by his behaviour and that helped. But I had also twice addressed a particular kind of shouting (the kind in which he talks to me in acoustically unsuitable conditions, upon which I can't hear what he says, and he then gets angry with me for not responding to what he says as he had intended), and offered a suggestion as to how that could be avoided, and never got much more than an angry shrug in return. How to deal with this? It's scary to let your guard down and tell someone they cause you pain, if you know there is a 50/50 chance they'll only make it worse. But don't let your guard down and you're not getting anywhere.

One evening David sent out an email. Was anyone interested in a trip the next day? I mailed I was, but that I would have dinner with Jaco and Marjan at six so would have to be home by then. That didn't leave much time. David suggested a trip starting about an hour away, meeting there at 1PM. I figured I would have to leave at 4.30; by that time the trip would only have got started. I mailed I then wouldn't come. He then reacted a bit peeved; he figured 3.5 hours would be well long enough. But if I had any better ideas I should offer them. I found that rather aggressive but one knows me; I prefer to avoid confrontation. I suggested noon. No answer came. Then it was bedtime.

The next morning there still was no mail, so I emailed again, checking what the situation was. Noon or 1PM? He said nobody had responded to that suggestion so he considered it off. Eh, OK. That's me out, again, then. But then Don suddenly started mailing; he wanted a trip and he wanted is ASAP. Eh, OK, again. I figured that if David now still wanted me for this trip he had to ask; I would not volunteer. But he did mail. I agreed. But then when I had just packed my bag, I got another message. David mailed his patience was stretched so he didn't want to share cars. David with self-confessed diminished patience! And only Don to dilute his company! I bailed out there and then.

I spent the day studying for my Casualty Care exam instead. Not so spectacular but at least peaceful! And I knew I would go and see David the next day to see what the damage was.

When I came in he smiled like normal. It wasn't normal. I have never before bailed on an underground trip specifically to avoid him. We bickered a bit about who had said what and how, but then the phone rang. He had to answer. I left.

Later that day I came back, with a cheesecake offering of peace. He accepted it. I said in the meantime I had looked at his mails again and maybe they weren't as aggressive as they had seemed. But that still didn't solve the shouting issue! And I know he is barely aware of it; there was a period in which I really hoped that week would be the week he wouldn't shout at me. And it never was. Until one Thursday it was. Having something to do with me going off towards the entrance early, and being away from his company for well over an hour, but still. In the car on the way back I thanked him for it, but he was all puzzled. Him, shouting? He didn't know what I was talking about. And if you don't know you are doing it you're not going to stop! So now we have agreed that next time he shouts at me I tell him he's shouting at me. And then I hope it will stop. Stay tuned! I hope it works...

01 September 2017


I'm sure I've made a cheesecake before! In my youth, probably. But not since. I think. But I would have dinner with Jaco and Marjan again, and the visiting party always bring dessert. And I like cheesecake! So I figured I'd give it a go. I googled a recipe and it didn't look complicated. The recipe was for vanilla, but I figured I could add any theme I felt like. And I thought of hazelnut and banana.

I made it after my Sunday walk, while also cooking at the same time. I completely forgot to take pictures! But I did not forget the finished product. It was appreciated by my hosts! I personally thought the cheese-stuff should have been a bit firmer, but it tasted good. But as we had already eaten ourselves quite full on focaccia we didn't even manage to eat half of it. But that's OK; I could bring it into work the next day!

I served it over lunch, and again it was appreciated. (All lunch-eaters were non-Brits so their judgement might have been honest rather than polite.) And then I had some left still!

I offered some to David as a peace offering (why this was a good idea will be revealed in the next post). It went down well! But he wasn't having much. I gave the rest to Guy, to take home, and eat with Kate. That cake went a long way! Maybe I should do it more often. But perhaps google some tips on easy cheesecake firmness...

31 August 2017

Small Sunday scamper

I had spent pretty much the entire Saturday in the hills. No chores got done! But I had plenty. I started on these on Sunday. By lunchtime I had done enough to grant myself a jolly! I made some sandwiches, packed a bag, and set off. My goal: a small lake I had seen from yr Aran. It was only a small walk!

It didn't start well. I got into a serious traffic jam (by North Welsh standards). When I came to a roundabout I had to take I saw why; the police had blocked everything except the first exit. I didn't want to take the first exit! But I didn't have a choice.

I saw some cars in front of me turning into a small road in front of me. I decided to follow them. I wasn't sure where it went but it was the right direction. I would recognise something soon enough! And so I did. I got back onto the road I had wanted to be on, and drove on. I got to Llanberis and there all went slow. It was a bank holiday weekend, and nice weather, and everyone wanted to be in Llanberis/Nant Peris. And Nant Gwynant. Especially people looking out for a parking space (forget it) or very, very insecure drivers who though 15 mph was a fine speed. Argh! I was glad to hit the tiny and quiet road into Nantmor, until I came across another car. Oh dear. I was fairly close to something that could function as a passing place, but I felt like I almost reduced my car to a total loss trying to get to it. These walls were so close on both sides!

I got to my intended parking space but by then I was ravenous. I sat on a convenient slate spoil heap and had my sandwiches. I needed those! It was 3PM by now...

Then I set off. The path was very soggy but quite easy to follow. The landscape was magical, as usual! And I had an amazing view on yr Aran (although it looks dull from this side) and Cwm Llan next to it.

At the lake I sat down on a rock and admired the scenery. I also got out the map; maybe I wanted to go somewhere again on Monday. I made a plan! Then I went back. I ate my fruit along the way. When I got back I had only walked some six kilometers, and climbed some 200m, but I had got my landscape kick. And seen a new lake! And even driven a new road. I drove back in the other direction so I had seen all of it; I had been tipped off it was very beautiful. And so it was! And still very narrow. I again met a car coming in the other direction. This time the other car backed up! And with some manipulation of wing mirrors we managed to pass each other. Brr! A beautiful road but not one to take lightly. But I had already seen another walk in the same valley I wanted to do. Note to self: not to do it in a bank holiday weekend! Especially not a sunny one...

At the start of the walk

Snowdon in the distance (and yr Aran at the far left)

Looking northeast towards Nant Cynnyd

Scenic ruin

The lake!

 Thistles frame the view towards the west

30 August 2017

Big Saturday trip

August is coming to an end, and with it perhaps my last Welsh summer! Time to discover more of this magical landscape before I can't anymore. When we had been on the Thursdaynight Wild Goose Chase and had been looking over Llyn Padarn while having a tea break at the old quarry hospital I had looked at Moel Eilio ("second hill"??) and Foel Goch (red hill) and all these mountains on the other side, and realised I had not been on top of them yet. An omission!

I had a look at how to go about it. I figured the place to start was a parking lot I had seen before, when I had gone for a run near Llanberis. From there a path went to the top. And then along the ridge. Where to get off again? I saw two options: the short one,where I would walk until I would cross the path coming from the valley on my right (Nant y Betws) back to Llanberis on my left. Otherwise I could press on, hit the Snowdon Ranger Path, get to just underneath the top, probably not be bothered to do the last 50m, and then descend the Llanberis Path with a potential detour to Llyn Du'r Arddu. I would have to cross the valley at some point to come back to the path that would get me back to my car. That would get me past the start of my recent Tuesday Evening walk, and near where a race had brought me a fair while ago which had brought the idea home to me there were some valleys around here that were worth further exploring. I'd have to see how I felt on the day!

By 9AM I had parked. It was a beautiful day! Slate grey skies combined with sun. Very atmospheric. I started up the path. The view was a bit intermittent; sometimes I was just walking in a cloud, but from time to time the valley below me would open up. Nice! When I got to the top I couldn't see a thing. I did see my first passer-by of the day: a fell runner.

 How it all started

 Top of Moel Eilio

I went on. The fog slowly lifted. I could largely enjoy the view from the rest of the ridge! And I made rapid progress. Soon I was having coffee with a view over the pass with the path back to Llanberis; Bwlch Maesgwm. No way I would take that path! I would go on. And so I did. Soon I had Bwlch Cwm Brwynog in view; I had a cup of tea before hitting it, as it was there I would join the much busier Snowdon Ranger Path. I had met noone since the runner. From a distance I could see the throngs on SRP...

The view returns! And offers Llyn Dwythwch

When I got to the pass I saw a stile, bringing me into the valley. I didn't know there was a path there! The map said nothing about it. But I saw it even split; left, going back to Llanberis along the convenient side of the valley, and onwards, towards Llyn Du'r Arddu. Worth a try! I could do without all these other people. I followed the path to the lake until it vanished (the path, that is); then I cross-countried to where I knew the lake had to be. The landscape was amazing! I felt really good. My choice had been the right one. I thought I was all alone until I saw a few climbers on the vertical cliff face. And then some more. There were about ten there! But very spread out, both horizontally and vertically. I decided to have lunch at the lake; I found a good spot, took off my shoes and socks, and bathed my feet.

View down the valley

The impressive cliffs of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu at the end of the valley. Notice the climbers...


Someone else appeared; this hiker was soon also sitting at the lake edge taking off shoes. And more. Soon she was in a bikini, wading into the water, encouraging me to do the same! Where I was the water got deep abruptly though, and I didn't have a bikini, or a towel. I stuck to my sandwiches. Maybe for the better; I would have had to go naked, which can make me feel a bit vulnerable, and soon yet another hiker appeared. This time a male. And hikers tend to behave well towards random naked females, but still.

When I was done I went on. I knew there was an incline here; it was on the map! Worth having a look. I got to it and couldn't resist walking up it. But where to? I saw no entrances. Maybe all had been backfilled. When I got high up I still saw no entrances. Oh well, too bad! I went on.

From the mine there was a path; an old tramway, undoubtedly, and now still there to cater for climbers. It would join the very busy Llanberis Path. I wasn't feeling that! Tens of meters before the paths joined I saw a faint trail in the grass, going back into the centre of the valley. I took it! It vanished but the river was easy to find. I crossed it, thought of going on, then reconsidered, took my clothes off and had a bath in the river. It was quieter here!

The river leading into the lake. Zoom in and see the horror of the throngs on the Llanberis Path! 

The incline

View on the lake from the cliff

Heading back towards Bwlch Cwm Brwynog

The river, where I had a bath

After that refreshing bath I went on. The path vanished but I followed the landscape until I came to a place where there should be a public footpath. I found a stile! But no path to speak of. Oh dear. I was a bit fed up with bushwhacking by now; I cut short to the big path I had seen at Bwlch Maesgwm and followed that back. I had another break finishing my supplies some mile from the car. Then I walked on, along the path I had ran on before. I took a tiny detour past a small slate quarry on the side of the path, but then I was back at the car. It was getting late-ish but I wasn't ready to leave this beautiful landscape. Even this parking lot was beautiful! It was a flat piece of land next to slate spoil heaps; the site of the old slate mill? I got the newspaper out of my car and sat down on the grass to read some. Very peaceful!

After a while I figured it was time to go anyway. I drove past the shop, did my grocery shopping, and was home at a quarter to eight. A day well spent! And now I have finally seen that valley! Such an evident one, but it took me more than three years to get to it... And I got to see it pretty much on my own!

Scenic farm in the middle of nowhere

Back to where it started!

29 August 2017

The dig is back on

We left the dig in a rather bad way the last time. At the very entrance, a big flake hung loose from the ceiling! We hoped it would come down on its own initiative before we would get back. As long as it was there, there wasn't really a safe way into the dig - at all. And it would be hard and scary to persuade it down!

When we got back I was down first. I immediately went to have a look. And I saw the flake was down! Success! It had snapped the electrical cable that had been suspended from it but that was a detail. And with that flake away we could go in for a closer look!

 The big flake down; notice the big metal ring to which the cables are tied. You can now see the back end of it sticking out on the other side. And notice the electric cable running behind it too, going up...

There clearly still was a big loose flake, but you could get around that. If you took the traditional way in you had to pass underneath, but there was another passage; it wasn't very comfortable but I decided to go in through there to go and get the metal bar and the crowbar from high up, so we could go and bring some loose stuff down. It's not good to hang around when loose bits fall on your head all the time! And you don't want things to come off in your hand or under your feet either, We had some tidying up to do! I threw Miles the metal bar and prodded the passage going up a bit, so the most offensive loose bits would be gone. I brought down a lot! Miles had really gone to town on the slate last time.

The flake that's still there, with Miles sticking his hand into the lower crack

When it all seemed OK I went to the far end where the crowbar was. I used it to clean up more. And I brought some loose rocks down that had been perched safely but had been dislocated. I didn't think we'd get much done beyond cleaning up!

We had a long, pensive look at the big flake. The good thing was that you could bring it down from the side; it could not fall onto you that way. Or slide towards you after coming down. But Miles was a bit nervous about it perhaps blocking the way out. I was a bit nervous about a vertical rock leaning against it; would that topple over if the flake went down, and bring godknowswhat down. Hm! We wanted to do that from a distance. But how? Miles had two ideas. Stay tuned! I hope we get to try them next week...

We had a tea break. At the end of it Miles showed me his altimeter; he had brough one so we could measure how much height we had gained. He set it to zero on the chamber floor. It obediently gave a level of 1m when he held it up, and 2m when he held it further up. Looked OK! But I had a polyprop rope so I could take a measure of horizontal distance too.

I climbed to the ceiling. The altimeter said it was 92 m up. Oh dear! It clearly wasn't. And I hadn't tied my rope to the bottom of the passage so I wasn't being very efficient. Oh well. I checked the angle of the ceiling with my compass (or tried; it's a bit of a faff if you're the only source of light around) and went on. At the far end I checked the altimeter still gave gobbledygook, took another ceiling measurement, and had a bit of a prod at the remains of the pile of rock there. I removed some more! And I noticed I might be able to dig under a big rock, rather than necessarily having to blow it up and go through. The problem was that the only place you could throw any rocks from there was in my own way, impeding the way out. If Miles could get up here he could help tidy up! But first things first.

I tied the rope to a rock. Then I went back to the vertical passage. From there I threw the rope to Miles and asked him to tie a knot in it at the bottom. Then we would have all the measurements needed! I went back to retrieve the rope. It was coming close to having-to-skedaddle-time. I came out and gave Miles his altimeter back. It now said I was at -105m! That thing needs calibration. Anyway. The polyprop rope would tell us enough!

We went out, and popped by the manager's office, where Miles' shoes were. There was also a measuring tape there! We measured the lengths of the two marked bits of rope. I had come less far than I thought! About 8m up vertically, and then 10m along the ceiling. Oh well, not bad anyway! 

27 August 2017

Bonus climb

We would climb again at Bus Stop Quarry! I looked forward to that. I drove up and saw Simon already parked up. He was keen too! Then we saw Eifion approach. And rain. Oh dear!

Glyn and Eirian appeared too. Together we discussed the situation. I was up for giving it a go anyway; Bus Stop Quarry has plenty of easy routes that are doable when wet too. But that may be a bit of a mine explorer's opinion; climbers tend to REALLY not like rain. Especially on slate! On the sandpaperish rocks of Anglesey, like at Rhoscolyn or Holyhead Mountain, it matter less, but slate really does get slippery. Eifion suggested going to the Beacon climbing wall instead. I was in two minds! I decided against. I can climb indoors all winter.

Glyn said he wanted to look at some of the routes. I was glad to be outside, surrounded by slate, so I decided to join him. In the background we saw several cars leave. He had a look at some of the routes, and was clearly tempted to give it a go anyway. Some of these routes were rather sheltered! Soon we saw Eifion approach too. He brought the book! That helped. We had a look at some routes we could perhaps do, especially 'Fool's Gold'; a route Glyn had been psyched up to do. And while we did that the rain abated. We decided to have a few climbs!

Glyn decided to warm up on an easy route, one I had lead the previous time. He climbed it, and Eifion seconded it, and then it was time for something more serious. We chose 'Septuagenarian'; a 6a. Glyn lead it. It looked a bit tricky! But he did it without much effort.

I hadn't climbed yet so it was my turn now. It did start to rain again, but that didn't stop me. I was on top rope! Nothing too bad could happen. And the rain did make things a bit harder but I did it. Not bad, an outdoor 6a in the rain, on slate! Eifion wasn't keen on trying it too (even though the rain had stopped again) but Glyn talked him into it. And he managed!

 Me doing the splits on 'Septuagenarian'. Notice the long tights; I remembered the midges from last time!

Eifion on Septuagenarian too

So now what? Fool's gold? That was a trad route. I figured Glyn had wanted to do this all evening and now he should. I suggested Eifion would do the belay; in trad climbing you can have big falls and Glyn is easily one and a half times my weight. Eifion is more his size! I did scamper up to the top to see what was there. The route came up a crack, to a ledge, and the final anchors were on the back wall of the ledge. A funny configuration; two anchors, but no maillons or bits of chain or anything like that; just a piece of rope. On well, it would hold! We do this underground too, sometimes. And the thing was; if Glyn made it to the ledge he didn't need these anchors; he could just walk off.

Looking at the men from the top of the route

He gave it a go. He used two ropes. He climbed effortlessly to the crux,where you had to transfer from an easy crack on the left to a difficult one on the right. Not easy! That right crack didn't have any footholds in the beginning. He was struggling.

Glyn places gear at the crux of Fool's Gold

I thought he might want to try on top rope. Sometimes it helps to do that first before you lead it. He was in two minds (he doesn't like top-roping) but I ran, fetched another rope and some karabiners, scampered up and fixed the rope. When Glyn confirmed he was safe I chucked both ends down. Better for Eifion to belay from the bottom; I didn't have enough kit with me to do it from the top! The men sorted out the re-rigging and I looked on from the top. Not for long; Glyn had worn himself out on that crux, and his arms were too tired now. Oh well! Maybe next time.

Light was fading now. We packed up! I had only climbed one route, but I was glad I had stayed. It had been a nice route, it was cool see Glyn do his thing, and it was a lovely evening in a slate quarry! What more does one want?