20 July 2017

Show my tutor the mine

In April 2014 I moved to Wales. I immediately started learning Welsh. And that September I started conversation practice with my tutor Jenny. That first day we already spoke about mine exploration. I think it was mentioned pretty much every session we've done since. And since the start of the digs, it was Cwm that got most of the attention. One day I showed her the maps. And she got a bit curious. It was time to show her!

We decided July would be a good time. When I got back from Laugharne we started organising it for real. We picked Saturday the 15th for it. She would bring her daughter (one of several), her son-in-law and her grandson. I had met all except the son-in-law before. And from the Thursdaynighters, Phil was up for it. And Edwyn and Jason perhaps. I really wanted at least one; you should never have some newbies in there with only one 'guide'. But with Phil for sure we were sorted!

David wasn't keen; he muttered about having to speak Welsh. Jenny doesn't speak English to me. Her daughter and grandson are fluent too. Her son-in-law isn't, so some English had to be spoken, but I wanted to keep that limited. This would be a great day for practice! And I had made it clear that was my intention. Hence David's hesitation. And I thought him not being there would make things easier; because of earlier experiences I am not comfortable speaking Welsh with him. So in a way him not coming was a good thing; but on the other hand, I figures that if this opportunity wouldn't remedy that issue it probably never would get remedied. Oh well.

Anyway. I borrowed kit from Miles (his harnesses with cowstails are made for his routes; 'standard' cowstails are a lot shorter, and way too short for Go Below fun. We noticed that several times before when trying out Miles' routes! (Like the recent one, but also a long, long time ago; my first time in Cwm, to be precise) I had made sure to borrow one for myself!

Jenny picked me up from home. That would save her navigating, me driving, and allowed me to have two hours more of Welsh practice. Excellent!

We got to the Lakeside Cafe early. We ordered coffee and sat down to wait for the others. Soon we were complete! We drove to the parking lot and got kitted up. A proper Go Below group, featuring one of the guides I know, walked past. Nice! We soon followed.

I thought we'd first go see the bridge, and take it from there. That worked fine! Jac, the child, was a bit nervous about the bridge (he told me not to shine my strong torch down as then he could see the gaping void below) but got onto it without issues. Then he thought it was cool! And from then on, we had him play on all kinds of fun Cwm has to offer. He did everything! And so did the others. Ben, the son in-law, had actually been a cave leader, so he was perfectly comfortable with all of it. Jenny and Helen were new to this, but aren't the fearful kinds. So all went well! Sometimes Jac needed some help clipping or unclipping because he couldn't reach with his as yet short arms, and sometimes steps were a bit too big, but he was fine. It was a great day! At one moment we needed to squeeze in a bit of a corner as an official group came past, and they have priority; having to wait for them to get past was a bit trying for Jac's patience, but all was well. I think he's spoiled now!

Phil wanted to be home at a reasonable time so we made sure to come out at two-ish. We did the obligatory picture at the entrance, and then we walked down, in the rain. I soon saw there was a light in the Manager's office; Miles was at work there. That was handy! Not only could we say hello; we could also give him back the stuff I had borrowed. And we could admire the progress being made in the restoration of the building.

We went for a cup of tea with bara brith in the cafe to finish the day. I think it has been a success! And now Jenny will be much better to visualise the things I talk about. Maybe I should show her the dig one day if she wants to!

Jac, Phil, Ben, me, Jenny and Helen

18 July 2017

Digging not as expected

I was bristling with impatience to go back to the dig! I knew how I wanted to proceed. And we hadn't been in the dig for a while.

The trip started a bit confused; the night before, David had suddenly mailed he was taking some people (which I knew would include his sister) around Cwm. He wanted assistance with that. But I would be in the dig before it would be clear if he had enough of that! I decided that if he wanted me he could be a bit more specific, and I stuck with my plan.

I met Miles on the way up. He had lots of kit in his car! I would take Jenny, my Welsh tutor, underground the Saturday after, and I could borrow stuff from Go Below for that. Very nice! He also had some stuff for the Manager's Office. We quickly dropped that off and changed; it was one of those days you want to change into your underground kit close to the entrance.

Miles suggested we first go see his new bridge. I had only seen it without the decking! Now it was as good as complete. Cool! Then we went to the dig. I immediately scurried up. There was stuff to remove by hand! I started. Miles had the drill so I could not start drilling until he appeared too. But things weren't as clear-cut as I remembered them! I suddenly wasn't too sure whether the path I had had in mind was quite as good an idea as it had seemed. I prodded a bit, and looked at some other possible directions. Everything looked difficult! But nothing looked impossible. Miles came to have a look too. He figured that going straight ahead was the best option. I though that required another drill bit; I set off to get it. And with me out of the way he decided to chuck some rocks down that were in his way. One of them was one I had tried but failed to chuck down one of the first days in this part of the dig. It was no match for Miles! It came crashing down, and then another, even bigger one, followed. Very satisfying!

I went back to the bit where I had been working. Miles mentioned that the chucking down of stuff had opened up a new hole, and that I should stick my head in. I sure should!

I finished what I was doing and then did as suggested. It went up! Quite a while! That was excellent! I had a bit of a look at what way it could continue and what was overhead. Then it dawned on me. What was overhead was the ceiling! I could follow the rock all the way to the wall. It clearly meant the chamber was, at least down here, filled up to the ceiling, but the ceiling undoubtedly sloped up. If we could follow it we would certainly come out on top of all the rubble in the chamber. And if you stay close to the ceiling, nothing can fall on your head! It did look like it was becoming a Margot dig, as it all looked rather squeezy and crawly, but Miles would just follow and make the passage bigger. I hadn't expected for the dig to proceed like this!

We did one round of blasting, but we didn't really have time to clear out the rubble. But that was OK. Next time I would certainly be heading for the ceiling! Exciting times!

16 July 2017

Proper outdoor climb

It wasn't until july I would get a good outdoor climb in! It's clearly not my year, climbing-wise. The first attempt at Holyhead Mountain in May didn't really involve anything that counted as actual climbing. But now we would go to Bus Stop Quarry and get some stuff done!

I hitched a ride with Eifion; at the quarry we met Mags and Sioned. Soon also Eirian and Ika appeared. Even later Lydia, and a lady I didn't know called Donna, appeared too.

I was impatient as usual and got into my harness rather quickly. Let's get some ropes up! I headed for an easy one; Mud slide slim/Ferrero Roche. It looked feasible and I hadn't done it before. Ika belayed me. First rope up. I was probably one of the few willing to lead, so I better get on with it!

When I came down I saw Eifion and Donna were faffing higher up. The others were staring at their phones. OK; let's do another easy one. I think the next is called Jagged Face. Almost a scramble. Oh well! Two ropes up.

No other ropes were up yet (Eifion and Donna had started to do stuff with an actual rope, though) so we proceedeed to First Stop, which I had done before. I got that one up too! Three ropes sorted. Time to have a look at what Eifion and Donna had done.

Mags and Eirian on Mud slide slim/Ferrero Roche; Lydia and Sioned barely visible on Jagged Face

 View on the actual bus stop

They had rigged a pitch from the top. Aha! That is better. Then you can do climbs that are too difficult to lead. I think it was Solstice Direct. I got to give it a go! And I found it hard. There is a section where all you have is the edge of a slab; the space between that and the rock face is so narrow you fear for your fingers. And the rock around is really, really polished, so your shoes just slide around on it. But with some dumb force I got past the difficult bits. Success!

By then Eifion and Donna had also rigged the neighbour; Equinox direct. That one was easier. I watched Donna and Eifion climb it and got a chance to do it myself after that. It was nice!

Donna starts on Equinox Direct

The midges had already been annoying when we arrived, but they were awful now. Time to start packing up! Eifion had a go at Solstice Direct while Ika and I started de-rigging the pitches we had earlier put up. When these were down I went to the top of the orbital pitches; we couldn't de-rig them yet! Lydia was about to give Equinox Direct a try. I just watched her go up (and down again) and started de-rigging. Time to get out of here!

When we got to the cars Mags mentioned she should try to find the club's clip stick. For when Margot isn't there, she said. Oh dear. I felt appreciated for rigging three pitches in not much time but this made things look a bit bleak. Am I just a clip stick that walks around now? Oh dear...

14 July 2017

Casualty Care

First aid scares me. Or rather; the thought of having to use my first aid skills scares me. I do know, though, that having such skills is generally a Good Thing. So I got the University to send me off to a first aid course, but why stop there? As a member of the Cave Rescue team I am supposed to be able to deal with rather serious injuries somewhere where professional emergency services can't come. The sort of first aid we might have to deliver is classed as Casualty Care. Every team has a few cas carers, as they are known; I always figured I should add myself to that list but life always got in the way. But then an opportunity called!

The initiative came, as expected, from Mountain Rescue; we cave rescuers never get called out, but they do; they might get more call-outs in a typical week as we do in a typical year. But if we're ever needed, we had better be able to step up to the game! So two of us North Wales Cave Rescuers were at the course. Let's hope we're never needed. But were we to come across an incident, we (and the casualties) will be glad we got ourselves educated!

The course would be at a sailing school which forms part of a navy compound nearby. It's next to our local climbing wall. It's so close by I could bike!

I initialy turned up at the wrong entrance. Oh well. I was also supposed to have read a book of which they had sent the (unprintable) PDF. But it was a 400 page book, and I don't want to read that many pages from a screen in addition to my rather screeny day job! I had brushed up on my general first aid instead; I have a hardcopy book for that.

There were some 15 to 20 participants there, and a varying number of physicians to teach us. These turned out to be orthopaedic surgeons, anaesthesists, etcetera; not first aid trainers who teach us all they know, but high-flying professionals who can only teach us a tiny bit of their knowledge. That made it extra interesting! They knew the answer to any question we came up with. They also knew how important it is to monitor a casualty; they are at the receiving end of the people we drag off mountains and out of caves, and know how helpful it is if we can present a comprehensive timeline of what has happened with and to the unfortunate we hand over.

It was a bit full-on to do a seven to nine session after a full working day on Friday, a full day on Saturday, and a nine to four day on Sunday; weekends tend to be for the sort of stuff you don't have time for during the week, like laundry. But I managed!

We got lectures on all sorts of things. Head trauma, chest trauma, fractures, medication, drowning, whatnot. And we practiced things. Some of that was patient assessment; we would get a dummy or a live volunteer with a simulated problem. Sometimes we would practice techniques. That was a bit more than I was used to; these Mountain Rescue types have all the kit! Oxygen cylinders, entonox cylinders, AEDs, (dia)morphine, you name it! We ended up playing with the lot, including shoving saline solution (pretending to be drugs) into each other's noses and leg muscles. Exciting!

On the Saturday we had a quick post-class BBQ. That was nice. People didn't linger, though; I suppose many had a fair way to travel. And everybody had to be sharp for the next day as well. But having a burger with nice people at the shores of the Menai Strait is nice!


Evening shot of the Menai Strait from the balcony

Practicing scenarios indoors

After three days we were done. We had everything we had done signed off on our logbooks. We need to get these completed soon. That means: more training! And we need to revise for the exam. I got a printable version of the book from a team member. I will have to absorb its contents before the exam in September. And I will have to practice primary surveys on my teddybear! But if all goes well I should be much more competent at providing medical assitance than ever before at the end of this. And that's good!

13 July 2017

Seler Ddu

We still get to see new mines! There are so many here. I wasn't digging this week as Miles was away, so I got to see this new place. It wasn't new to Jason; the first time he showed up David immediately found out he knew about Seler Ddu; this turned out to be a mine he had been interested in for a while, but had never vistited. With Jason as our guide we could now change that! And Jason had explored the dry bits exhaustively, but never the wet bits. It was time to change that!

David, Simon and me gathered in Clynnog Fawr. We piled into my car and drove up a small lane. We just had enough space to park behind Jason's van! Time to get kitted.

We all decided to walk up in less than full underground kit as it was a warm evening. And the views were nice! It was a nice stroll up the hills. We went all the way to the far end and first explored the largest accessible bit. It was a very charming warren! And entirely dug by hand; the pick-axe marks were still all around. What a work! It must be an old place. David photographed it to within an inch of his life! Afterwards he would vanish to his mother's place for a week, which stopped him from uploading them, but one can be patient.

The view (looking roughly east). Pic by David

Some of the mine had lots of side passages and strange stone supports. Pic by David

  
Some of the mine comprised simple straight featureless tunnels. Pic by David

Jason admires the pick-axe marks. Pic by David

We then went to the first wet adit. Only Jason and I had actually brought our wetsuits; David and Simon had conveniently left them in their cars. We walked in! It didn't go above waist deep. The adit was just a straight tunnel. No side tunnels, no chambers, nothing. Oh well!

We then went to the next bit; that had two levels. The top was dry but the bottom level was wet, so again Jason and I set off. This water went deeper quickly! And as soon as we stepped in we could hear the menacing thudding of the waves we had made slapping into the ceiling. Thta told me we wouldn't get far! Jason went in up to the neck, but as I knew it got flooded to the ceiling anyway, I decided to keep things comfortable and keep my bra dry.

We came out! David tried to drain the level from the outside but was only moderately successful. Time to go down! And then away quickly; the midges had descended. Nice to have seen this! And if we ever need another dig: there is enough here to keep us busy for a while...


Jason neck-deep in cold water

11 July 2017

2001: A Space Odyssey (finally)

If you've studied physics you have the right to be a nerd. And then you have an excuse to see classic sci-fi films. I clearly wasn't nerdy enough because I hadn't seen the film mentioned above. An omission! But that would get sorted in unexpected ways.

On Wednesday I meet my Welsh tutor, Jenny, in the pub for some conversation practice. This Tuesday I suddenly got the email asking whether I might be interested in going to see 2001: A Space Odyssey instead. Eh, well, yes!

A painted image of four space-suited astronauts standing next to a piece of equipment atop a Lunar hill, in the distance is a Lunar base and a ball-shaped spacecraft descending toward it—with the earth hanging in a black sky in the background. Above the image appears "An epic drama of adventure and exploration" in blue block letters against a white background. Below the image in a black band, the title "2001: a space odyssey" appears in yellow block letters.

We met in Pontio, to have a pre-film drink and chat. She had been directed towards this film because one of her other tutees was in media studies or something, and had written a book about Stanley Kubrick. If she would go and see the film they could discuss it in Welsh!

We went in. It started a bit silly. The initial space scenes are a bit cardboardish if you are used to 2017 technology. But for a 1968 film it must have been amazing! And I wasn't too impressed with the ape scenes. My disbelief wouldn't be suspended.

Then the film moved to the space age. That was better! It even wasn't that politically backward. It featured female space scientists. No non-white people, though (not that I noticed, anyway). And the speed of the film isn't very high but I don't need that. There was enough to think about anyway!

When it was over (which isn't particularly soon) we had a post-film drink too. Enough to discuss! What was that monolith? What happened to the bloke? What is 'gravity' in Welsh? Why was the space ship so big? What was the crew supposed to do on Jupiter? And so forth.

I'm glad I've finally seen it! I suppose film classics are as worth to pursue as classic books are...

09 July 2017

Welsh book read fast

About a month ago I announced I had was about to start reading a new book in Welsh. The previous one had taken me years. This one I polished off already! My prediction this one wouldn't last as long as the other one came true...

This book was written a lot better, and in less dictionary-requiring language. It was written in Bethesda slang, so if I didn't recognise a word, generally the dictionary didn't either. Quite soon I generally gave up looking stuff up. That saved a lot of time! I missed some things through my non-understanding of early-twentieth-Century smalltown dialect, but I'm sure I got the essence of the book. 


So what is it about? It turns out to be an almost-autobiography of the author, who grew up poor and fatherless in slate quarry town Bethesda. This book is about a kid in a similar situation. It is mainly seen through his eyes; it is mainly him telling stories about his daily life. From his rather innocent viewpoint (most of the book he's nine years old) you do see the poverty, the alcoholism, the abuse. It mainly appears on the side; the kid himself is more interested in the next sandwich. There are plenty of happy stories, too; sneaking into football games, gathering mushrooms, having lunch at Gran's. But WWI is on and villagers die; they also do of industrial accidents, diseases, violence.

I thought the end was a bit weird but I liked the book altogether; it gives an idea of life in that village at that time. The perspective of the kid gives it a charm of its own. Things just happen; the book never gets preachy. It easily could have! Chwalfa did, a bit. That is set in the same village, and only some 20 years earlier in time.I'm starting to get a good idea of the place in the early 20th Century! But the next book, I think, is set in Cardiff, and I think it's a modern setting (it was only published in 2006, so I'm being uncharacteristically modern) so I'm in for a change of scenery...

 The next book! Warmly recommended by my Welsh teacher...

07 July 2017

Family visit

Every year there is a family gathering of my father's side of the family. The family is: my dad, his two brothers, and their spouses and offspring. Not a very big family, and we're never complete (of our generation of seven, three live abroad, and aside from logistic issues; not everybody gets along), but it is enough to make it special. I skipped many of these gatherings on account of living abroad, but I have changed my ways and now I try to be there every year. Two years ago, we all went paddling along the Meuse; last year, we went geocaching. This year we would just potter around in a nature reserve near where my dad lives.

The Netherlands seen from the train

When I booked my trip I knew I had one day already filled with the family gathering; I then added a day with friends in Amsterdam, and a day with a friend who lives in Hoorn. The rest of the time would be for my mother. Sorted!

Getting to the Netherlands was a bit of a faff; there was some malfunction in Schiphol which made getting through customs a waiting game. But once I was through all was well!

The day in Amsterdam was rather quiet. Just some friends and some food and drink! Does one need more?

The family day went well too. The weather held, so we were quite happy sitting among the wildflowers, drinking coffee or wine, and occasionally engaging in games. We weren't complete as one cousin who tends to show up was ill, but we had a new addition to the family; my cousin Bart showed off his three months old daughter. She's the only one of the next generation with our family name! 

Silly games at the family day; my uncle Karel bats a piece of wood away

Admiring Rivka, the youngest. Pic by Petra

Eating pancakes at the end of the day. Pic by the waiter on Petra's phone

The next day I went to Hoorn to see Monique. That was a quiet day too! You would almost say me and those I hang out with are all old and dull. Suits me! I regretted not bringing a camera when we walked the dog, as the area is one of those really Dutch ones with the canal above the fields, and reeds and cows everywhere. Nice! But no evidence.

With my mother I did the usual amount of drinking coffee and wine, and the usual trip to the cheese shop. It was lovely!

I went for a run too; I ran to the local Pinetum

I often take a picture of the Koppelpoort from the other side (like last time); this time I caught the inside (and my mother biking past)

Did anything Earth-shattering happen? No! But was it a good visit? Absolutely. When next? No idea!

05 July 2017

Another night at the ladder

Sometimes series of trips to the same place are quite nice. You get to have a proper explore! We had been in the same area of the mine now for a fair number of times. It started out as an add-on to an explore I had wanted to do, and then we had gone back once to find another way back out, and again to scale a level higher up from the previous time. Now we would go back yet again; we hadn't really decided what we would do, but we had one other traverse to rig in order to get into another tunnel, one level to scramble down into, and two to clamber up using our ladder. We probably wouldn't manage to do all that we could make a start.

In the parking lot we decided to not bring the drill; that saves weight. We would have enough to do without. When I was ready to walk up I did; I found Miles and Pete in the Manager's office. Pete had done a day of exciting work on a Go Below project. We would later see the results! Miles would come with us. He hadn't been to this corner of the mine in yonks.

The others appeared too; most had not seen the manager's office from the inside for a fair while. Its restoration is in full swing! All were impressed. But then we went in, and down. I felt a bit odd; my normal lamp had been damaged the previous time I had been underground, and I had sent it back to the man who had made it. My spare lamp was very weak and I wasn't used to not being able to see. Especially when going to such big spaces! But one makes do.

The first stop was a bridge Miles and Pete and several others of Go Below were building. We were impressed again! We may soon see it finished. But for now we moved on. We got to near our goal, and David offered to show one of the newer chaps, who had not seen it before, our drill. The rest started our way up the two slabs.

I was the first one up, so I could now have a look at David's traverse, which he had rigged last time. I hadn't awaited its completion as I had been really wet and cold. I was impressed! I had a look in the level it gave access too. When Miles appeared we scrambled down to have a look. You couldn't go anywhere from there, but it was nice to check out!

The level from which you can now go around the corner to the next shelf; you can't yet go into the next level you can see in the distance

When we got back the others were having a tea break so we joined in. After that we started our way down; Miles went home, and some of the other men lugged the ladder along the traverse on the level below to one chamber they wanted to scale. They found bolts, so we decided to check that out some other day when we had a rope, and time to rig the bolts. We left it for now! We made our way all the way down and then back out.

It had been a nice evening but I hope to be back in the dig next time! It's nice to see parts of the mine I hadn't seen before, but gaining actual new ground is even more exciting.

01 July 2017

Review a proposal

If you want research money you have to write a research proposal. Promise the moon on a stick, and maybe you actually get the money! The success rates for pretty much any major funding agency are minute, but if you don't try, you won't get a penny. So the stubborn keep writing proposals. If you promise the moon on a plausible stick you might have success! And who decides whether the stick is plausible? Well, that's us. Proposals get reviewed pretty much as journal articles are; they get sent out to experts in the field, who give their detailed opinion. It's slightly different as if you review an article: you do that so the authors can improve it; a proposal is the end product, so you only judge it.

I was asked to review a proposal recently. It's quite a responsibility! I won't say what it was about (okay, there were foraminifera involved), or who by, or what funding agency had asked me, as I stayed anonymous. I also don't know what happened to it, although I can guess. I liked the proposal and I hope the authors get it funded, but I did see flaws in the proposal, and I did point these out. And as soon as there is any blemish on a proposal the chances of it getting funded are rather slim. Should I have not pointed out the flaws then? That would make the system collapse. One should be honest. And there would have been several reviewers anyway.

Part of me still feels like the excited 17-year-old who went to university for the first time, but it's things like this that make you realise you are actually a professional whose opinion matters in the world. It's a lot of responsibility but it feels good all the same!

29 June 2017

School of Ocean Sciences: end in view?

It seems the School of Ocean Sciences was established in 1985. I myself was too busy making drawings of horses to care too much about that at the time, but it looks like I might witness, and care about, its demise.

As I mentioned before, the university is struggling financially, and now the faintest beginnings of plans of how to cut costs have started to emerge. And one of these plans is: changing the College of Natural Sciences into the School of Natural Sciences. That would mean merging the School of Ocean Sciences (SOS), the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) and the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography (SENRGy). This big school would be part of the new College of Natural and Physical Sciences, or something like that. That would include chemistry, electronic engineering, computer science, and the likes. How does this save money? Noboby knows. Could it mean that nothing changes but the name? Not likely, as there would be no point making this change. Does it matter? Well, yes, Ocean Sciences is one of the flagships of the university, and you don't want your flagship to hide behind shrouding generic names. And the university so far refusing to say how exactly this change would save money is a bit suspicious. So what's going on? I'd like to know. And with me many people.

It seems the new college would lose eight FTE in academic personnel (so that is a way of saving money, but that could have well been done without changing the structure of the college), but it's possible that happens without forced redundancies. There will be people retiring soon, and within SOS we already had two voluntary leavers. One saw the storm coming and headed elsewhere; another struggled so much with work-life balance she quit without having another job lined up. If the same thing is happening in SBS and SENRGy then we might very well have reached that number already!

So what does this mean for me? We'll have to see! The Head of School said he had a good impression of me, and had heard good things about me from others, so he would have liked to have money to keep me, but he doesn't. Once the restructuring is over, though, and the necessary cuts have been made, they would go back to a situation in which they can replace people who leave. Then opportunities may arise again. But all that is a bit vague. A position for someone like me may never come up, and even if it does; where will I be then? And who else would be applying? One doesn't know. Oh well. So far I am learning lots, really lots, so for now I'm being paid to invest in myself, and I'll keep at it while I can. But I'll have to keep an eye on job sites! There is, however, a bit of a myth that once you are in Bangor, you can never really leave (unless you're James) so who knows, maybe after this I will find another job elsewhere, but return when a position in Bangor emerges. Would fit within the history of SOS! Hopefully, even after it ceases being SOS...

27 June 2017

Back to the dig

The Laugharne fieldwork always ends on a Thursday. Normally, we are back in the north so late that going underground afterwards is out of the question. But this year, with nothing scheduled on the last day except getting ready to leave, and only 22 students to do so, things had changed. By 10AM all the  students (and the staff) were ready to go. So we left! I dropped the students I was driving off at home or wherever else they wanted to be dropped off, and went home myself, to drop off my bags. It was only 3PM!

I put my lamp in the charger, unpacked what needed immediate unpacking, watered my plants which had survived a heatwave without sustenance, packed my caving kit and had something to eat and drink. Then David appeared out of nowhere; he had asked if he could leave his car on my drive for the duration of the field trip, as he knows I live in a dull part of town with low levels of theft and vandalism, so he had to get back to my place to retrieve it. He had parked his rental vehicle at university and been dropped off at my place. That allowed me to then drive my vehicle to university, followed by David, after which he drove me back up. It had only just been 4PM!

I left at the usual hour to go to the dig; I knew Miles would already be there, and I had told him I had no idea if I could make it or not. He'd just have to wait and see! I had expected him to have been in for a while but I bumped into him before I had even reached the dig.

Our first task was clear out the rubble we had left the previous time. Very satisfying work! As usual I was at the coalface and Miles was lower down, but now the passage was so wide he came up to inspect the situation. This had revealed a possible way on; upwards there were some rocks that would be difficult to remove without endangering yourself, but an opening straight ahead had revealed itself. Well, it's up we want to go, but bypassing the difficult rocks would probably pay off!

We had time for a round of blasting, so we placed a charge in a rock that moved but was too big to chuck down, and one rock that needed to be reduced a bit in order to let me past. That was a success! I saw what next we'd have to blow up so we could come prepared. We did get rid of the fragments of the moving rock but by then it was time to get out.

It was really nice to do some brainless throwing around of rocks after being largely cerebral for almost two weeks! And making good progress is always satisfying. I hope a way up will reveal itself during a next session!

25 June 2017

Laugharne: the second week

The first week was over and routine had set in. All was going fairly smoothly! The tides were, as I was concerned, perfect. I could go out at 7AM every morning. Whenever low tide was far away from 7AM (at the very beginning and very end of the trip) it was also quite low. That was great! If low tide is, say, at 3AM and 3PM things can get hard, as at 3AM it's dark (and also unpleasantrly early) and if you have a total duration of your assignment of

 11 hours and you HAVE to do the bit in the field first, you can't really start at 3PM, as you'd be at it until 2AM.

One thing that didn't get better with time was the weather. It got really, really hot! For me it was bearable as I am only in the field until 9AM at the latest, and that just doesn't get as bad as the mid-afternoon, and the rest of the day I am in a shady lab. The chalet my lab was in stayed relatively cool. The other buildings became saunas! Everybody struggled to sleep in the heat. The mid-day activities outside became unpleasantly hot. But what can you do!

I also didn't run an awful lot; I didn't want to run before going into the field as that would mean getting up even earlier. I ran one during lunch break, but I tend to only have an hour, and that also includes tidying up, having a shower and having lunch. Not much worth it! And if I had students finishing early it was still very, very hot then. I did manage an acceptable number of runs, though. I even found a route that avoids the main road! Unfortunately, this route included a part of the coastal path nobody ever seems to use, and it was very overgrown with plants that gave me nasty swollen scatches. Not nice! After a few attemtps of stomping a path through I gave up and just used the little stretch of the main road to get to the country roads anyway. Less hostile vegetation there, and fewer biting insects too!

 The alleged coastal path

On Monday we went into the field to drill a core. It was way too hot, but we did it anyway! We split the students in three groups; one doing gepophysics to tie in with the core, one group actually coring, and one group describing the core sections. The core came out splendidly; that made up for the discomfort. Through the day, though, the students got increasingly boiled, and their enthusiasm dropped off a bit. The last group to decribe core sections got the least interesting bits of the core; they struggled a bit. But we got it done!

The drilling field: drilling happens behind the van; the gazebo in the back is for geophysics, and the gazebo in the freground provides shelter for those describing the core sections


Core descriptions in action

After dinner on the coring day, David suggested we go and retrieve a time lapse camera he had put up at the estuary mouth. I thought it would be a good opportunity to see something of the area outside the small bit where I take the students every day. I was tired, but it didn't sound like a long walk to get that camera. How naive I was. With David everything turns late. We retrieved the camera from an amazing vantage point, and from there we continued to the beach. David wanted to fly his drone over two areas. But time was ticking! And we had to walk all the way back to the car. I suggested I leave him, get the car, drive to close where he was flying his drone, and pick him back up. We did that! And got home at 10PM. Bedtime already! But if I ever end up in charge of this trip, I will try to  bring the students to that spot on the first day. It provides such a lovely view!

 The mouth of the estuary

After the weekend the staff numbers dropped off; Colin (who had only done the first Monday and then the weekend) left, Jaco left, the geophysicists left, Tasha had already left; only two members of academic staff were left. The rest comprised three technicians, one photographer, and one teaching assistant. No problem, but a bit quiet. As I have such long hours, and the technicians too, it was Martin (the other academic), David (the photographer) and Maxine (the teaching assistant) who did all the cooking from then on. But they didn't seem to mind!

And then the final day came. The students were a bit cranky by then (well, two of my five were) and it was the hardest day to teach; it was still blazing hot and if you have a few students who are fed up they risk infecting the others. But we got through it! Maxine and I packed up the lab in no time. I even had time for a small run afterwards

The next day we packed up all the other chalets, and had a look at how the students were faring. We had told them we would leave at 10AM, and lo and behold, they were all ready at that time! I think that might have been a first.

I think we all pulled it off! There were no injuries, there was no serious damage to anything and nothing got lost, and most field days went ahead as planned (there was one case of an unexpectedly deep river channel, but we successfully dealt with that). All the students did my part of the trip successfully. All staff agreed that this had been a good cohort. I think we can call it a success! That's one weight off my shoulders!

Laugharne seen from the mudflat

23 June 2017

Laugharne: first week done

The fieldwork would start easy for me. On the first day I only had to drive a rental car down. The next day Colin, the man who had started this fieldwork, and who had based it on the research he had done here for his PhD some fifty years ago, would lead a trip through the area. He brought us all to the river quite far upstream, so outside the reach of the tides. He then took us to a headland at Pendine from which we could see the back-barrier system, which features importantly in the trip, pretty much in its entirety. Not all students enjoyed the steep walk up, but hey, they can't have it all.

The marsh on the first day in the field; notice the weather is still nice and cool

We also went to Laugharne itself, to look at the estuary, and to scamper through the tidal creeks. I don't really think it's scientifically necessary to do so, but it makes it clear which students have the tendency to get stuck in the mud. There is always at least one! And indeed, this time too. And it's important to know that; the students survey the whole estuary, and this way they know which students should not be asked to do the extra muddy transects. It was great fun!

Only the third day things got more complicated. Students went off to do five different things, so they all needed to know what time to gather where, what they had to bring, and we had to sort out the vehicles for driving them all around. And I had a full day in the field and the lab. I only had three students. so it wasn't overly busy, but it did take them some 11 hours to do the entire day. They were a nice bunch though, and all worked out. The day after I had five; that was quite a day. The day after that I had none and could just work on a manuscript.

Laptop in the empty lab: research time!

That first week we also had the company of one of our PhD students.We were short of hands in several ways, so we needed someone versatile. A renaissance woman, as Colin put it. And we have one! By the name of Tasha. She could only attend the first week so we took what we could get. She could already drive any of the vehicles we have, and she could help the students with the MATLAB work they do, and we would teach her to survey on one of the first days. And it worked well!

She had not only brought her versatility but also her dogs. They were a lovely addition to the fieldtrip! They are very cute and well-behaved, so everyone loved them, and they didn't get in the way. They went on Colin's trip; they tried to make pretty much everyone throw sticks for them. Tasha told everyone to not give in as they are silent as long as no sticks are thrown; when there are, however, they don't stop barking, and that would get in the way of the teaching. But it was cute to see them try!

Jaco trying to get a grab sample from the river while the dogs try to get someone to throw a stick

One of the dogs once escaped the lab when the cooking smells from the main chalet were getting too tempting; he legged it straight to its kitchen. Oh dear! And the other one once decided she wasn't getting enough attention, and forced herself onto the laps of the people who were clearly the busiest checking taxonomy. Not very practical, but very sweet!

We now have to do without both Tasha and the dogs. It's not quite the same but we'll manage!

Sprocket and the microscope (this one has a camera mounted; hence me not looking through the ocular)

18 June 2017

Laugharne: the pressure is on

I had participated in the Laugharne fieldwork several times before. What I do with the students is take them sampling a salt marsh in the morning, and pick forams in the afternoon. It is a time-consuming activity; it is not unusual for the whole day to take 12 hours. Fourteen hours has happened too. And that every day! But there isn't much pressure on the system. I'm comfortable in my sampling and my taxonomy. But this year is different.

Having been made partially responsible for the fieldwork was a game-changer. Before the fieldwork I was jumped at by thoughts such as "Has the accommodation actually been paid? How will we get the keys to the rental vehicles? Do we have enough notebooks for the students? Have the computers been sorted? Will the student will visual problems (who doesn't answer my emails) be able to do microscope work?" and much more like that. And once there, I have these long days in the lab but it's also up to me to make the schedule every day for the next day and post it up, so the students know what time to show up where. I also have to make sure we have the vehicles to get everyone where they need to be. I also am the logical person to answer students' questions, but I hope they just go to the member of staff most relevant to their inquiry, as I only know about my own field day. And I feel responsible for making sure someone is cooking food every day.

 A few days in it seems like everything is working. This year is relatively easy; the trip is now compulsory for fewer students than in the previous years, and students are not likely to do something that costs £150 (or £90 for those on a small budget) and takes 11 days if they do not have to. Last year we had 35 students; this year only 22. The logistics are a lost easier this way! And all seems to roll on as usual; the various activities are happening as planned, people cook meals, all is well; once the trip has momentum it doesn't need much interference. Good!

Introducing the field: Colin gesticulating in a salt marsh

15 June 2017

Back to the ladder

Some weeks ago we had returned to an obscure corner of our favourite mine. We had intended to climb one slab that had a fixed rope, and then a slab which didn't; we had brought a ladder to help that aim. In the end we went elsewhere, but we still wanted to climb that slab. We left the ladder for a later date.

That date was now. Miles was otherwise engaged so I wasn't in the dig. Only a few of us gathered at the parking lot. There had been talk of our troublesome former PhD student Rich joining that night, but he would later turn out to have initially driven to the wrong mine and thus showed up too late.

It had been a wet day and the river was swollen. We lugged a drill, bolting kit, and several ropes up. And then down to where we wanted to be. I was the first one up the first slab, and the first thing I did was check if we had a lot of rope left at the traverse we had rigged the previous time. We didn't; only some nine meters! Oh well. We had brought ropes. But there was something else; the pitch we had done even longer ago had now turned into a veritable waterfall. Oh dear!

I went up the ladder to look at the situation. I knew there were bolts there. I tried one with my spanner; the nut came off! All we needed was hangers and maillons. We had brought those! I went back to get the bolting kit. The first bolt I could rig without too much discomfort, but the next one was already within the realm of the waterfall. Oh dear. I just kept going. I didn't want to get wet for no reason! I made things worse by attaching myself to the rope (which I was attaching to my anchor points) in a rather clumsy way and thus getting stuck between a wet rock and a wet hard place. I got there, though. When I reached the top I found a convenient anchor for the rope at the top and threw the other end down; it reached all the way. David first sent another rope up, and then at my request my bag, which had sandwiches and tea in it. I needed a hot drink after this thorough drenching!

David, Jason and Jay came up too. I had a look with David at where the passage at the side went. Only to the next chamber! You could see around the corner, though. Tempting! I tried (largely unsuccessfully) to photograph the chamber, some artefacts, and the waterfall, and tried to stay warm. Jason gave me his jacket; that's the second time he's done that. David first re-rigged the drop down; I just had used one anchor and an alpine butterfly, but he likes his rigs more thorough. He then tried to rig a traverse into the next chamber. I decided to start making my way down, just to get moving and get warm; Jay was thinking the same, but for reasons of not getting home too late. We went ahead. I left my bag as David needed it for transporting the drill.

A small bottle and some det boxes on display

Jay and I came out. We had no idea how far behind us the others were! After a while I told Jay he should just go if he wanted. He did. I had to wait; I was sharing a car with David.

Twenty-five minutes after Jay and I had come out I heard the others. Good! David was carrying out his jacket. He handed it to me; it was more use around my shoulders. We went back to the cars and there I tried to get comfortable. I regretted not having brought dry underwear. And I don't like going commando! I had to accept going home in damp pants. Oh well. An acceptable sacrifice for new ground gained (by us, then; others had clearly been here before). When will I be back? Might not be for a while; I might be back in the dig soon! And that's proper new ground we're gaining there. But these forays in rarely visited terrain are quite exciting too!

13 June 2017

University in dire straits

It is already one and a half years ago I mentioned the university wasn't doing very well financially. It still isn't. It's actually worse now! All Welsh universities seem to be struggling it seems. Some English ones are, too. But the state of Bangor University, of course, is most relevant to me. For the last 1.5 years it hasn't been the case that nobody at all has been hired; we have 1.5 new lecturers in marine biology, and a new data librarian, and maybe some people in posts I don't know much about.  And there's me. That isn't much, though, especially if you think of the number of people who have either retired or chosen to go elsewhere in that period. People are gloomy and prospects are bad! We regularly get emails about that the situation is dire and that we need to save money. We have meetings within SOS as well about it. The media are buzzing with rumours on forced redundancies. But what is really going on?

On Thursday I went to a meeting organised by the three main unions (UCU, Unison, Unite) about the situation. There clearly had been some discussing going on between unions and university management. The unions wanted a guarantee on no forced redundancies, and initially the university seemed to have been willing to give that, but had withdrawn it. So now what? The deputy vice-chancellor in charge of finances would be there to give a presentation, and take some questions. Not all questions; one of the biggest lecture halls the university has (if not the biggest) was packed. People were sitting in the corridors and standing on the sides. There were more questions than he could possibly answer. But he mentioned that so far the university had been putting out fires; what they wanted to do now is make such big savings they would then actually have money to invest in the university again. How? He wasn't very clear about that.

After a while he left. Then the union reps took over. They explained there had not been any specific proposals by the university on how exactly to save that money, but a lot of suggestions had been made. Some savings were no-brainers; the university seems to spend a fortune on conference attendance and business class travel. As researchers always go to conferences on their project budget, one assumes these posts must benefit higher management. They weren't popular with the audience in that lecture hall!

Cutting conference attendance and business-class travel won't be anywhere near enough, though, so what else to do? Fire people? Have a pay cut all over university? Ask everyone to take every 10th day off? And then it gets complicated.

Firing people is not a popular option, of course. But I can imagine it shouldn't be entirely ruled out. I have worked in places where there were people without whom the university would run better than with them. It frustrated me they weren't booted out; I can't now suddenly be entirely against booting people out.

The pay cut would be OK with me. It would have to leave out the lower earners. We academics can generally do with less money, but I'm not sure if the same holds for the cleaners and security officers and whatnot. And if we get a pay cut we want the big earners to get one too! Some people, however, are worried about high-flying academics then going elsewhere and the level of research dropping off. Nobody wants that. 

The 10th day off option would be a bit weird because the work load wouldn't change. I suppose support staff who only work the hours they are paid for would get less work done, and the academics would probably keep working as hard as before but just get paid less. And I think the academics get a lot more than the support staff, so this would be an egalitarian option, but it would still be a bit twisted. What would be the impact of support staff doing 10% less work? Will the academics resent the even more blatant disconnect between the hours worked and the remuneration? And will the best people leave?

What will happen? I don't know. I'll be on fieldwork soon. I suppose I can still get my voice heard as my union (UCU) will undoubtedly keep me informed, and let me know if there will be a vote on something. All I can say now is: watch this space! I hope somehow this can get solved without too much drama. Not likely, but let's keep the faith!





11 June 2017

One Welsh book down!

It took a while but I got there! A year ago, I mentioned I was already halfway in a Welsh book. It took me a year to read the other half. I took that book with me to many places! It's been on a research cruise, in Greenland, and to the Netherlands more than once. Reading in Welsh isn't necessarily fast (although a novel in Welsh went rather swift) but this book was rather dry. I decided to push on, though. The topic was interesting, but it wasn't an unusually well-written book! Unfortunately. I know it also exists in English so I could have just switched, but I didn't.

The book is about a concentration camp in Wales where a lot of the people involved in the Easter Rising were locked up. They didn't have an awful lot to do in there, so they passed the time pretty much doing what would turn out to be starting the IRA. It's called "Y Pair Dadeni"; this means "the cauldron of rebirth" or, as I have it heard more colloquially being referred to, the Magic Cauldron. In this case, the rebirth was that of the Irish nationalist movement. And the Magic Cauldron is a theme from Welsh mythology.



So now what? I didn't have to think long about that; our Welsh course has themed chapters, and we had recently done one on Welsh literature. And there seems to be one book that is generally known as the best one ever written in Welsh: Un nos ola leuad (one moonlit night). Well, let's try that one then! No idea whatsoever what it's about (the title leaves a fair amount to the imagination) but I'll find out. Just that other people like it doesn't mean I will, but I'm sure it will be more pleasing than the previous one!

09 June 2017

Nantlle Ridge

There are some iconic walks around here. One is the Snowdon Horseshoe, which I have not done yet (I have done half several times). A much, much smaller one, but much more quiet, and still quite spectacular, is Nantlle Ridge. Tradition is to do it with two vehicles; doing the ridge both ways is a bit much, you don't want to go back through the valley (you can't avoid the road, and people drive fast there), and you can't really go back around the other side of the valley either. So one puts one car on one side of the valley, and another one on the other, and then you can do it one way on foot and the other by car. But I didn't want to wait until someone else with a car would want to team up, so I decided to go for it with my bike in the back of my car.

I decided on a Saturday, and made sure the bike was already loaded up. On Sunday I got up reasonably early, had breakfast, packed my bag, and set off. I parked near Rhyd Ddu, like I had done when I went for a walk with Monique. I got my bike out and set off. This way I would do more downhill than uphill. Good!

My colour-matched vehicles ready for the adventures


It still took a while to get to the other side of Nantlle,where I wanted to start. I had seen on the map that there is a public footpath that starts at the main road, and it doesn't quite lead to the ridge, but it goes in some semblance of the right direction. There is no official path over the ridge at all, but I knew there would be a non-official one. Good enough for me!

I found the start of the path but there was no sign. It wasn't indicated further on, either. That was not such a problem; I needed to just make sure I would walk uphill to go in the right direction. I stomped through some rough and swampy fields, climbed carefully over some walls and fences, and finally found a track. That was on the map! Now it would get easier. (The starting point of that track was too difficult to get to by bike.) I saw the track would have a junction, and another limb would go in the right direction for a few hundreds of meters. Well, I assumed it would go further. And it did! I needed to skirt an impressive cliff (Clogwyn-y-Cysgod, or Shadow Cliff) and that was easy to find. When I was almost up I stopped for coffee. Sipping the stuff I saw two tiny specs in the bottom of the valley below me make their way up to the head of the valley. And fearlessly climb up! That looked tricky.

I came through a (part old part active) slate quarry along the way


Coffee time!

View from the coffee spot: notice the path snaking steeply up

I went on. When I got to where the specs would come out onto Craig Cwm Silyn (No idea what 'Silyn' means) I saw it wasn't as steep as it had looked from where I had been sitting. It looked inviting! Trip for another day.

 Where the steep path reached the top

Now I was at the top of the ridge it became easy. The top was broad and flat for a while, until I had to do a fairly steep descent to Bwlch Dros-Bern (Pass over whatever "Pern" means) in order to climb back up onto Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd  (Mountain at the end of the swamps). From here the mountains looked beautifully velvety. At the obelisk at the top I stopped for lunch. Three Londoners passed me; they had started in Pen-y-Pass the day before! They probably came over the top of Snowdon. Quite a hike, and very busy, I guess! I suppose they may have a sad homecoming...


Selfie with the flat landscape of Craig Cwm Silyn

 View into Cwm Pennant

Pretty bog cottom in from of a grim-looking Craig yr Ogof

I went on. Trum y Ddysgl (Ridge of the Dish) was waiting! It was very pretty. I also liked the completely empty valleys I saw on my left. Generally you couldn't even see a path in them. On the right had been Cwm Pennant (for completeness: Corrie at the top of the valley, where I had tried to run), but now my view had passed over the pass and I was seeing the main valley leading to Beddgelert again.

 Looking back on velvety Mynydd-Tal-yMignedd





Mynydd Drws y Coed, with Snowdon in the background


Trum y Ddysgl lead to Mynydd Drws y Coed (The Mountain of the Door of the Woods), from which it was actually a scramble to get down. I didn't expect that anymore! It was fun though. And I got down to y Garn (The Cairn) and I knew I would have to find a path down. I did but lost it again; oh well, I could just walk down the grassy slope. It wasn't so bad! When I was almost down I sat down to enjoy the view and an apple before I would rejoin the path I had taken with Monique. From there it was only minutes back to the car. I got there by 15:30! Not bad.

One of the empty valleys (it doesn't even have a name on the map) with Mynydd Mawr on the other side

I drove down the valley, retrieved my bike, and drove on. Slowly, as you do when passing through Caernarfon in a sunny weekend. I still was home by 16:30. What a day! I can see why that ridge has such a name. It is stunning! And I only came across three clumps of people (the Londoners, some people with a dog who whimpered at me, and a couple) while it was a sunny Sunday in June. Brilliant! I might do that trick with the car and the bike more often.

08 June 2017

More coastal runs

It would be a bit dull if I wrote up every run I did. But lumping a few together should work! I did a few closer to home, for reasons of efficiency. It started with a run close to home; looking at the map I realised that there was a lane between my home and the main road west (in the direction of places like Brynsiencyn and Aberffraw where I have done quite some runs) I hadn't tried yet. I did that first! And it was nice.

 Church in the middle of nowhere

The week after the day started really hot, so I decided to run in the woods. I sometimes go there too when it rains; there are many logging roads and these stay passable in heavy rain, while they have no traffic at all. This time though I ran almost exclusively on the paths. Very nice! And good views, as one of the paths skirts the edge of the woods, which is perched on a rock.

Two days later (it was a bank holiday weekend) I went back to Red Wharf Bay, which had been the start of my first Welsh weekend run, but when I had parked up in the west and gone further west still. Now I parked up much more centrally and ran east. The route went over a peculiar sea wall! Charming. And when I was looking for a convenient place to stop I saw a parking lot. Great! A good place from which to run the next time.

 The funny sea wall running along the eastern end of Red Wharf Bay
 People make some viewing platforms pretty! How nice.

You guessed it. The next time I started at said parking lot and ran further east still. Another nice run! A lot of rural idyll and some good views on Red Wharf Bay itself. And where I turned around you could park a car. I have two runs lined up now (I also have already picked a starting point for when I want to continue my coverage of the coastal path from Porthllechog on a day I want to go running a bit further afield!

Red Wharf Bay in the distance

06 June 2017

Productive night in the dig

After three weeks of not being in the dig, and having to do without a drill one week, I was keen to go in and get some proper work done! I wasn't sure last time how to proceed, but that happens all the time, and I was sure I would think of something.

I did what is quickly turning into a routine; I walked up to the manager's office in my civilian clothes; I would probably get sweaty and disgusting later on anyway, but there's no reason to do that any earlier than necessary. At the manager's office I met Miles, changed, and headed for the entrance.

I was very impatient due to the month of doing no drilling whatsoever in the dig, but Miles was keen to widen the lower bit, so he got the drill first. I had to make up my mind on what to drill anyway. I wiggled my way up and had a look. There was a rock quite in the way, but it would be hard to drill it. Then I wondered if I could move it. And I found out I could! There were two really big rocks that did move at some provocation. One scared me a bit; I didn't want to be below it in case it started to slide out of control, and I didn't want to be above it in case it would block my way out. I managed to carefully move it down a bit until it got itself stuck.

The other rock was smaller and could move. I first removed everything on top of it; I put that ready to chuck down when Miles would be done drilling. Then I carefully moved the big one down. It was very sharp and pointed straight at me, but I managed to move it into position to be chucked down.

While Miles got the accoutrements for his drill holes I chucked all my smaller stuff down. The big one followed later, but it wedged itself several times along the way. In the end I managed to have it thunder into the level! Very nice.

While Miles was placing charges I got the drill. I managed a hole in the big wedged rock, and another one in a rock that was firmly stuck in place, but in the way. We charged these too. Miles figured we should blow them all together; that required some intricate rigging.

We had some tea and coffee while the resin set, and then we managed to blast it all. We had a quick look before time ran out; the results were excellent! We had to go. Miles said he might be back before I am; if so, I will return to a beautiful wide and clean passage! And the next challenge is already in sight. This project stays exciting!

05 June 2017

Build confidence

There is such a thing as the College of Natural Sciences Women's Network, and I am part of it, but I'm clearly not advertising it enough because when I looked for an earlier mention of this honourable body on this blog I couldn't find any. Oh dear! We've been going for years.

Why is there such a network, one may ask. Well! Natural sciences are still a rather male-dominated world. To use the School of Ocean Sciences as an example: our Dean (OK, he is CNS-wide) is a man, the Head of School is a man, we have ten professors and only one of them is a woman. Of the non-professoral academic staff the ratio is not so extreme; these are 12 men and 9 women. Men, clearly, dominate the school. And some ladies in the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography decided it was time to have some occasions where women could get together and do stuff once in a while without all these men. So they founded the CNS Women's network. And they had organised this session. Its theme was: confidence building. I went!

 We discussed what confidence is. Not easy to pin down! Having faith in your abilities? Or being comfortable in your weaknesses? Or both, depending on circumstance? And regarding one's weaknesses: that's a pic of me running a race in which I would come last. I think doing that knowing I would be shit at it was a good thing (apologies to the organisation for making them wait).

Do I need confidence? Yes. I have it already in some aspects; I am not nervous in front of a big lecture hall full of students. I don't mind speaking up in a meeting even if I know people will object to what I say. But I can still do with confidence in other matters; I am, for instance, nervous about doing complex things for the first time. I am nervous if I have to lead a field trip for the first time. I may (or may not) be confident about the science, but then there's the organisation and the logistics. What do we need? When do we need it? Where is it? How do we get there? Do all students read the instructions? What do you do with students who don't show up? If some students take a lot longer than others, when do you cut them off and decide they've done enough? That sort of stuff.

Another thing I struggle with is asking for time from other people. All academics are overworked, and the last thing any of them needs is me barging into their office and wanting their time. I do manage on a small scale; I could not have done my MATLAB exercise without asking for help (and getting it) from colleagues. But if it gets bigger I struggle. If you have an approach like that you might have issues getting research proposals together, for instance.

The session could not solve that, of course. I suppose the use of the session was making you think a bit. If you do, you tend to know what you should do. Just facing your fears slowly but steadily tends to be the answer. You don't need to go to a session for that, but if you don't, you might not really get around to thinking of doing some self-imposed exposure therapy. And it was nice to hear the stories of the other women.

I also enjoyed some of the theoretical underpinning of the woman (from HR) who lead the session. She had read up on the subject, and confirmed that there is indeed strong evidence that women are less confident than men. In the west, that is. In some cultures, the genders are so segregated that women only compare themselves to other women, and not to the entire population. And if you compare yourself with the entire population you end up comparing yourself to men. Who dominate politics, and science, and business, and whatnot. Where if Tom deMoulin wins the Giro d'Italia all the Dutch are ecstatic as he was the first Dutch person to do so (and it even says that on the Wikipedia page). Except that Dutch women have done so multiple times. (Insert Andy Murray and Wimbledon for an UK audience here.) And where ignorant male bullies win elections over capable women. Where students will accept a low grade given by an expert female only if it is confirmed by a male colleague who is an expert in something completely different. Where you run a race with more than 1000 runners who all get a shirt at the end, but they only have male cut. Where men still think it's OK to comment something along the lines of "I'll have some of that" when a woman walks past, and then think they defend themselves by saying "I only looked, I didn't touch!". Oh so you didn't commit a crime! That's OK then. Go and treat your fellow citizens like consumer goods all you want then. Oh dear. I'm getting carried away. This sort of stuff tends to do that.

Anyway. I went to that session and it was good. And how am I going to get that confidence? Well, I suppose being nervous about being responsible for big things you don't know much about is perfectly sensible. Maybe I should work on contacting people if I think that would be a good idea. What's the worst that can happen? They may say "sorry I have no time for this". Fair enough. I have to organise a series of seminars next year; that will be a good opportunity to practice! Let's see how many people I think are the bee's knees I can lure to Bangor...


ps all examples given here actually happened.