28 February 2017

Power cut disrupting the teaching

Storm Doris was on her way. I knew there was an amber weather warning for Thursday. Not very nice for driving to Blaenau in order to go underground, but well, I bought my car in stormy days so from day one I have practiced driving it sideways. I had to drive into work, as I had to leave for Blaenau straight after my 4-5PM lecture.

It was very windy indeed when I woke up. I drove to work and got going. Fairly soon the power failed! And came back on. But not too much later it failed again. And stayed off.

I had a small chat with David and then decided to wait it out in comfort. I had a (printed out) paper on my desk I wanted to read. And I figured the water in the boiler in the kitchen would still be hot! So I got myself a coffee and read the paper. While I was doing that, my neighbour Andy came in to say the power wasn't due back on until 2PM. Hm! Not so comfortable. I figured I'd drive back up for lunch, as we would probably be out of hot water by now, and I didn't want to have a lunch of cold rice with cold water. A bit over the top, driving home, but well, what can one do.

Then I heard Dei. I wanted to discuss some teaching matter with him. While we were engaged in that activity some students knocked on the door. They were in my module! They informed us the power wouldn't be back on until 6PM, and the buses weren't running, and one of the students had walked over the bridge and didn't recommend it to anyone. It looked like the lectures were off... and then an email came through form high management: all lectures for the rest of the day were indeed suspended. That settled it then! My day had changed again.

I decided to tidy my desk. It's a somewhat boring job without a radio to keep your mind entertained, but well, generally I have more urgent things to do than this, so this would have to be the moment.

I had several piles of articles lying around I had used for lecture preparation, and for my PGCertHE, and for several other things. It was about time I put them in my article drawer, in alphabetical order. And I had lots of loose bits of paper. I went through lots of it. Suddenly everything looked so much tidier! I also wiped the desk; it had quite some tea stains and dust and whatnot everywhere.

By the time that was done I was hungry. Time to go home for lunch! And then try to do more there. I had a book at home James had used in tutorials. It probably had lots of interesting stuff in it! And at least I could now on drive off for Blaenau in more practical clothes than my smart teaching outfit!

27 February 2017

Paris: a year on

Last year I went to a talk about the Paris agreement, by Tara Smith, a lecturer from our own Law School. This year I was module leader of the module that talk was a part of. Things can move fast! And so has the progress of the Paris agreement. At the time of last year’s talk, Paris had just been agreed. The ratification process had not yet started. Now we are a year on; what is the situation now?

The good news is: the agreement would come into force as soon as a certain threshold number of countries had signed. And that number was reached in six months! That seems to be most unexpected. Tara gave some examples of other agreements; some took a few years, one took nine, and one was unlikely to ever come into force.

So what’s now being forced? Governments are legally required to formulate emission targets. These don’t have to be sufficient to keep global warming within 1.5°C or even 2°C, which are the key aims of the Paris agreement. They just have to be targets. And they don’t have to meet them. And then they have to formulate tighter targets every few years. Not tighter by any given amount; just tighter, even if infinitesimally so.

So how do things look? Well. Things could be a lot worse; the top speed at which countries ratified the agreement is of course a good sign. But one could argue it does not take an awful amount of political courage to ratify a toothless agreement like that. Has Paris lead to a mentality change? I can’t say I’ve seen much evidence of that. Can it still happen? Sure. Would that be early enough to keep global warming within 2°C? Well, now that is a topic we DO have evidence for. The answer is: in all likelihood, no. So if you read this and you’re expected to live a long time still: brace yourself!

25 February 2017

Last weekend of work for a while?

I ended the week having only two more lectures to prepare. One would be Monday at noon, so fairly soon. I knew it would mean another weekend of work. But this time it wouldn't be so bad!

I could do a fair amount on Saturday at home. I only got to the office in the afternoon, and to my surprise, it wasn't so cold there. I didn't need the electric heater! And by Sunday I was making good progress on the next lecture along. That would be the last. That one was entirely my idea; the lectures so far focussed on climate change at particular time scales, and I focussed on the processes that influences climate change at the time scales involved. That meant, though, that there wasn't much time to go into how we know about these things. So I decided to add another lecture with just that. How do we know about the amount of weathering in the Himalayas? How do we know how big the continental ice sheets were at any given time? How do we know about temperature, ocean stratification, iceberg rafting, sea ice, wind strength, cloudiness etc etc? So I made a new lecture with all of that.

I have my last lecture in this series on the next Thursday at four. Immediately afterwards I'll go underground. The next day I have my tutees first, and a lunch seminar later (not given mby me, but attended by me), and then in the afternoon there's James' and Paul's official School of Ocean Sciences goodbye do. I have to sneak away for another lecture given by someone else, but then at 5PM I can go and join James and Paul in the pub they will have ended in by then, I assume. And then I should finally have a weekend to myself! I don't have anything the week after that can't be sorted in that very week. I look forward to it!

File:Benthic foraminifera.jpg
Strangely enough, there is sufficient emphasis on foraminifera in my lectures. These are some SEM pictures produced by the USGS.

23 February 2017

Respite from teaching in the dig

I had been working flat out for over two weeks. I really needed a night in the dig to recover! Luckily I got that.

We would have another dual trip; Paul would take some new people around, while David, Don and I would head into the digs. It would probably be me in Dig 2, and them in Dig 1. I was impatient; I was ready to go up by the time Paul only started changing. With us not heading in the same way anyway, we left him and went ahead.

It was a night that started sweaty; Miles was thinking of pumping water out of a level we had to walk through a lot, and I welcomed that idea as that wellie-overtopping, cold water had left me with painfully cold feet the week before. He had himself carried the pump in; we would follow with the 50m of hose he had left for us at the entrance. And that's quite heavy!

When we got down I went to Dig 2, where I found Matt working on the passage to the last chamber. I found Miles at the coalface. He was wearing waders! He had his own thoughts on standing around in deep cold water. He was comfortable; at least foot-wise. He was cold and tired otherwise, having been in there since before noon. But it showed; the chamber was unrecognisable. The passage to where you could go no further (yet) was motorway-sized! Impressive. And Miles he had just drilled some holes in the ceiling for charges; these would not open up the blocked bit, but would provide a prelude to just that. While I admired all that David and Don appeared for a look too. When they'd caught up with Miles they headed for the other dig.

I took it upon myself to frantically scamper around, looking for all ingredients needed for a blast; charges, the resin gun, extra resin, extra nozzles, and the detonation wire. Even though I had had a long day of teaching I felt fresh. Doing physical work is nice after two weeks of relentless thinking!

The resin gun now also started bothering Miles; I think it's due retirement. When the fight with the resin was over I was draughted into wiring the stuff up as well, as Miles' hands were getting too cold. And it would get worse. When he walked back through the level he fell over. That's the way to make waders not work!

We retreated to the level with the supplies in it; we all ate something and I raised the men's spirits with some hot drinks. When we were done consuming I went back in to set off the charges. That went well, but I remained alone. It started to dawn on me the men wouldn't follow! They were done for today. Miles wanted a hot shower. They were probably right it was time for them to go. I scampered back to say bye. Then I went back; it was still early, and I could go and clear out the blast rubble. The ceiling also had lots of bits that were loosened but not quite detached; I had quite some crowbarring to do. And some throwing rocks out into the level.

The tight bit had two small holes you could see through; too small for a person, but enticingly providing a glimpse of what awaited. I had a look at the biggest one; it looked almost big enough for a person... I prodded at it until I figured I should go and fetch the men (who had no watch on them) from the other dig. I set off!

I found the men in chamber Z1, trying to locate the passage onward, which was obscured by rubble. They had had limited success! They had also tried to improve the entrance into the chamber. But now it was time to go back up.

We appeared at the meeting place a few minutes late. I could hear Paul from a distance! But saw nothing. I followed the sound and found the men ascending the ladderway. They were a few minutes late too! And Paul's sounds had not been a greeting; just sounds. But it all worked out.

We had left three men in the car park but found four emerging; one chap had been a bit late, and we had missed him. He was quite happy to have gone with Paul, though, so no damage was done. Maybe starting in the dig is a bit much of a good thing!

As usual, we had all had a good night. I could tell, though, that I was getting worn down; on the way back I couldn't work out anymore what the levers at the streering column did. I remembered they controlled window wipers and light, but I couldn't remember which one did what when you pushed it what way. That has never happened to me before! Oh well, only two more lectures to go. And then next week I would probably forget how the pedals worked, but after that I should be fine!

21 February 2017


I've met my tutees! That is, all except one who was down with a cold. I asked them to introduce themselves, and I asked them what they had so far learned from the tutorials, and what they hoped to learn from now. Most of them said they struggled with presentations, and needed practice with that. OK, we can work with that! I thought I'd start things off by having them present a summary of their essays (that they had written before, for James) in order to 1) practice presenting and 2) give them a bit of feedback on the narrative structure of their summaries. In science, as everywhere else, presentation matters. If you just rattle off some dry facts nobody will pay attention. We have all drifted off during presentations on interesting topics but by people who couldn't tell a story. And we've all skimmed through conference abstracts, trying to decide which presentation to go see. If you don't write an inviting abstract you lose people! So one can't start early enough practicing on making whatever message you have to convey as enticing as you can!

As they were so keen on practicing presenting, I thought we should do both a practice session and the real deal. But that takes more time, so I would have to have another slot timetabled. And if you have six students presenting, you want more than fifty minutes. I suggested I book a two hour slot and they thought that was a good idea! Students who want more contact hours and more work! I am amazed. This is good!

When the discussion on the presentations was done it was time for me to set them their first task for a grade. They have to write an abstract, so I gave them the articles-with-abstracts-edited-out I had prepared before. And by then time was sort of up; they had to go to Anglesey for a practical, and they would be brought by a bus (honestly, the university charters buses for that) that would leave shortly. It was a short meeting, but it was good to meet them. I hope I can make a useful addition to their education!

19 February 2017

Another important election

It was February the 14th, and I had been getting a bit apprehensive. I was really hoping I'd get mail! And it came.

There was the EU referendum. Then there was the American election. There was mayhem all around and my voice didn't count. The next elections that have the eyes of the world on them are the French elections with Marine le Pen hoping to get the top job, and the Dutch elections in which Geert Wilders hopes the same. I don't have a say in France, but finally, my voice counts in the Dutch elections! I had registered to vote by post. You can then choose between getting your ballot paper by snailmail or email. You have to send it back by snailmail either way. I asked for the ballot paper by email; I had registered while on my old job, and I wasn't sure if I would perhaps have moved by the time the elections came.

I seemed to remember that voters abroad would start receiving their ballot papers by February the 7th. I kept going to my mailbox; anything yet? Would something have gone wrong? Nothing on the 7th. Or 8th. Or 9th. I got apprehensive. Then the 14th approached and it got nerve-racking. But then it arrived! Romantically in the evening.

Normally, in a Dutch national election, you get a ballot paper the size of a newspaper (in 10 pt Times New Roman, or something) because, with proportional representation, there are hundreds of people you could vote for. This time I got something else; an A4 sheet for the actual voting; it requires pointing out separately what party you want to vote for, and which person on the list of that party you prefer. I was referred to a governmental website for a specification who actually made up each party's ballot list. That information was contained in a 26 page PDF. Dutch voting for you!

I will make sure my vote heads for the Hague in good time. I have a voice, and I want to use it! I really really hope this time I won't wake up to bad news the day after the elections this time...

17 February 2017

Another weekend of work

Teaching something for the first time is a lot of work! One 50 minute lecture to fourth year students takes a lot of time to prepare. I have seven lectures in a fourth year module I hadn't taught before; originally, I would have four of them in my second week (mind you; my first week was only three days long). That wasn't feasible! And then having a field trip booked over the Tuesday didn't help. I had to work hard to get my lectures ready in time. The first weekend went up in preparation. Climbing was sacrificed to it too. Digging was invoked to keep me sane; if you're only working you go doolally pretty soon. And then the next weekend was spent working as well. At least I can do some at home; reading up is done swimmingly on the couch, with a mug of coffee on the table. But quite a lot of it has to be done in the office! So I am going pale and wild-eyed, but I have already done three lectures and so far I've managed...

Some marine diatoms; one of the topics I had to read up on is the production of dimethyl sulphide by marine algae, such as these. Pic by Kostas Tsobanoglou

15 February 2017

Tutees for the first time

These days, pastoral care is important in universities. Back in my days (I like being an old fart) we didn't have personal tutors, but now all students do, and they see them regularly. Tutors are not only for pastoral care; they are also for general skills, such as scientific writing, and oral presentation skills. I think that's nice; you don't go to university just to acquire specialist knowledge. And for the tutors it's nice too; this way you at least get to know some of your students. I find it a bit of a pity that if you lecture to a whole room many times, you do share a lot of time, but in the end you still don't know their names. Of your tutees, you do!

I will probably spend most of my time on the general skills: the tutor overlord has ruled that in the second term, the students have to write an abstract and an essay, and do an oral presentation. I only have to have five meetings with them (I have scheduled six) and that means I'll have my hands full explaining what I want from them, and giving them feedback on what they've done. The first meeting I have to tell them to write an abstract; my first job was to decide what to make them write an abstract about. Sometimes it's that sort of decisions that give you headaches: shoudl I let them choose themselves? Should I set a topic? But about half of them are marine biologists; I am not very familiar with that field. What to do? In the end I let me be inspired by the essays they had written the previous semester (I could access these through the university website). They'll all get an article with the abstract edited off. We'll see how that goes!

In addition to all that, I might have to sometimes see them one on one if there are issues. And there are likely to be issues arising. It's a completely different thing from 'normal' teaching! I do look forward to getting started. Watch this space for when it kicks off!

13 February 2017

Busy in the dig

Miles would be back, and this time, he'd bring backup. We had been making amazing progress, but he clearly thought it wasn't enough; he decided to ask his employees if they were interested in coming along and helping dig. So after a one week digging break I expected to go and meet him and one other chap. None of the other ThursdayNighters had indicated interest in a trip so it sounded like I'd have all the fun.

When the day came, an email with a proposed trip came around anyway (we're very late organising stuff these days). We'd all be in the digs! And "all" turned out to be also Don (who had been ill) and Paul (who is an expert procrastinator). Paul had forgotten his socks, so I gave him one of the pairs I normally wear in my wellies. They justabout fit...

We went up, in, and down. I was ahead (surprise) and went into Dig 2 where I soon heard voices. Then I saw faces: three of them! Not only I had come with more people than expected. I greeted Miles and got introduced to Pete and Matt, the other chaps. They had been in there since the afternoon, and had extended electricity to the working end of the dig. They had also started placing explosives in the entrance to the crawl.

I was keener on making the far end more pleasant, so within minutes of showing up I was drilling holes in one of the two rocks left over from the previous time. Pete had got the other one out with a mallet! Good job. While I was at it, Don and Paul arrived. They had an admiring look around, and then went to the other dig. I'd see them later! Soon afterwards we could blast both rounds. And then clean up! While the dust settled we had a hot beverage but soon we were back at work.

Miles wanted to do more blasting at the entrance, but I was keen to make progress rather than beautifying the place, so I suggested I'd go in and start drilling the wall of chamber Y, the next one on. I did want to bring some menacingly perched boulders along the way down. I didn't like the look of them!

I figured the boulders would have to be done first, and I did not want them to come down while I was behind them. I started wiggling a bit with the crowbar, and the first rock came down. Success. Now the next. That one was scary; I wanted a longer pole. I went back to see what I could find.

We had had a piece of inch-thick rebar, and Miles had used it to secure the ceiling in the previous chamber, but afterwards he had reinforced the whole structure with scaffolding, and that meant the rebar was now superfluous. When I got back with it, Matt was looking at more rocks, and wanted to bring more down. Be my guest!

He did with panache. What was left pendant seemed stable. I felt comfortable underneath! So I could get on with my scary boulder. It was about 1.2 x 0.5 x 0.3m. Big! But when it came down, it didn't bring much with it. A relief! But it was a big bugger and now it was in the way. I started drilling it! The passage onwards could wait; this had to be done first. Before I got drilling, Pete left. He had a long drive home...

When I placed charges I noticed the resin gun, with which I had had trouble earlier, had a blocked nozzle so I needed a new one. Matt went to get one. I offered to do it myself (it hadn't taken me long to realise I was also faster in tight spaces than him and Pete) but he insisted. That provided a pause!

I heard sounds that suggested Miles was climbing a scary void in the previous chamber; I decided to keep an eye on him, but he didn't need it; he got up and down without issues. Then I got my nozzle. By that time, however, Miles suggested he should scoot. I didn't want to block another nozzle, so I tended to the resin gun first, but then I said goodbye to the men.

When they left I had another fight with the uncooperative resin gun. I couldn't get it to work! I filled one hole, and plugged the other one with drill dust. It would have to do! Then I wired it all up. The resin of the one hole had to set, but it was close to 10PM, so I should go and see Don and Paul. When I got to the first collapse I found them there. They were fine with me going back, setting off the charges, and then going out with them! So I did. I did not go back to check the effect of the blast; it was late.

I went back to the men, and climbed out. At the top of the pitch I had a sandwich or two; other than the cup of tea with the Go Below folks I had not consumed anything that evening. I was hungry! But I had time, as both Paul and Don are slow on the ascent.

We walked back in the freezing cold. I had spent a lot of time in the water between Z1 and Y, so I had cold feet, especially with my single pair of socks. Buy the time I had changed into my normal clothes my feet hurt considerably. It would take half of the journey back, in a car with the heating on full blast, so get comfortable in the feet again! I hope that level gets drained soon...

Miles would be back the next week; so will I! It's still going very well in there...

12 February 2017

Students describing glacial sediment

When I was between jobs, I was asked by my colleague Martin if I could perhaps help out on his day in the field in February. By then my new job would have started! And I said that was fine with me as long as I was not otherwise engaged. So he phoned up the timetabling people, asked them if I would be available, heard I would, and booked me in. However, with me not being employed yet, the timetablers didn't know half of my commitments, so I later found out I had this day in the field planned on the fifth day of my new job, and planned straight over three lectures. Oh dear!

So what was the trip? The field site was a cliff caused by coastal erosion, which showed a very interesting local story. It showed glacial sediments originating from Snowdonia, and then ice from the northeast ploughing ruthlessly over the top. In between were lovely proglacial sediments. And the students are only in their first year and they don't need to recognise the details, but they are asked to make a sediment description of nine windows of sediment we had demarcated. Then at the end, Lynda would tie it all together. We would do this twice; some colleagues were doing levelling at a nearby site. After lunch we would swap students.

I thought I probably should be involved in this; it's not quite up my scientitfic street, but it's geology, and that is what it all started with, even though I turned a bit climatological later on. So I moved the double-booked lectures back, and resigned myself to being rather busy. I would lose a whole day to the field! And I need many days for lecture preparation. But that's life. Then the issue of getting the trip sorted started (another pile of confusion resulting from James' departure) appeared too. On Monday the day before the actual trip, I had a recce in the field with trip organiser Lynda. We went looking for the nine windows. Some were not there anymore; the cliff still actively erodes. We found good locations for replacement windows. We were done fast, and that's good, as it was raining. I hoped it wouldn't do that on the day itself!

 The situation on the beach on the recce day

When the day came Lynda loaded up the kit we needed for our bit of the trip, and drove off. I placed big A4 sized labels at the sites. Soon the students appeared! Lynda took them to window A and explained to them what was expected of them. They were supposed to know; they had practiced this in the field, but some recap was needed. Then they divided into groups and set off.

The way we found the beach on the actual day: a lot better!

Scenic shot

At full size one can see the labels at the various windows

Lynda briefs the first batch of students

Off they go, describing sediments!

 And the debrief

Quite unlike the day before, it was a glorious day. Sunshine! The students were in good spirits. They also set to work with panache. They barely had any questions, and they just tended to see what we hoped they'd see. It went well!

Lynda and I wandered around, just keeping an eye on things. A light job! By noon we got them all together for the debrief. They were a bit reluctant to speak up about what they'd seen (students will be students) but we got it out of them. They got the point about the two ice masses and the water-borne sediments in between! Very good. And time for lunch.

I went to a tea shop with Lynda and quickly had a toasted sandwich. Then we went back! The second batch of students had less sunshine and more cold then the previous group; they were also a bit less fresh after alreayd having doen a half day. They still did well, though! Altogether it was actually quite pleasant to spend a day at the beach. I even had time to sit on a rock and contemplate my upcoming lectures! Altgether a succes...

10 February 2017

Clunky boots

When I ditched my orthopaedic soles I lost a shoesize or two. I had to go and buy a new batch of shoes! I had a pair of approach shoes I had done the inital trials in, and these do well for day-to-day use, but I also need footwear for other purposes. For underground use I have a pair of boots I had initially used with my modest insoles, and which I now wear without insoles but with two pairs of socks. For hiking I bought a second-hand pair of light boots for a few tens of quid. But I also want to have more solid boots for harder work, such as with crampons.

My light hiking boots

I kept an eye on boots on a Facebook group dedicated to buying and selling second hand outdoor stuff. Some boots came up, but these heavy boots are costly, and I don't want to spend a lot of money on boots that don't fit. Then a pair came up in nearby Llandudno. I arranged with the seller to come and try them on.

When the day came I struggled a bit to get there; it was very windy and some people did not adapt their behaviour to that, which lead to closed roads. But I got there! I met the lady who was selling them due to them being too small. I tried them on, scampered with panache through her front garden, and decided they did fit me. I bought them!

They are a bit clunky; the light boots above are only 500g per boot, and these are 800g. But with clunkiness comes weight. And they still are lighter than the wellies I wear underground; these are over a kilo each...

I don't have time to scamper through the mountains with crampons these days, but well, as soon as I do I now can! But by then there may not be any ice left in the mountain. However; these boots should last me many years...

09 February 2017

Weekend of work

Preparing a lecture takes a heck of a long time. The lectures I had already done twice before were already sort of OK, but still needed some tweaking; some had been too long and needed pruning, and some bits had gone outdated. That needed fixing. But it was more work to sort out the lectures I had not done before.

I did not start from scratch; I inherited Paul's lectures, and he had inherited them from James. And I know James' presentations; they only make sense when you're James. He has a monumental amount of knowledge in his head, and he can spin that into amazing stories, guided by the merest hints from PowerPoint. But for people who have a different head, these hints might not be enough. Updating his lectures which often are full of graphs and images without any explanation,and often in grainy, nineties (or worse) quality, is a lot of work! But it also is fun. I like knowledge! I love reading up on stuff! I love looking at a slide, thinking first that all is well but then thinking "hang on, but why is this or that the case?", then looking it up, and then having filled yet another void in my knowledge. Lovely!

With it being so much work, and it having become more do to being in the field the entire Tuesday (which meant I had to move three lectures in the already busy rest of the week, and the following ones) I needed to work over the weekend. Luckily I could do a lot at home; on Saturday, I didn't go to the office. I had brought all my presentations with me on Friday. Nice to work in a heated house, with the kettle nearby! Nicer than in a cold office in a dark empty building that you have to entirely traverse to get to boiling water. Although on Sunday, I went in anyway; much easier for looking up references, and for swapping between windows as I have two screens. Luckily I could use my office mate's electric heater!

One thing that saved me a lot of time was that one of the lectures I had to prepare was a fourth year lecture on Milankovitch forcing, and I had already read up on that a lot in order to explain it to A-level students. And that sounds very different, but it isn't really, as I had had a lot of these "hang on" moments then, and they have been weeded out now. I went back to my notes from that time, and got reminded of a lot of interesting stuff I can put in! I knew it would come in handy sooner or later!


08 February 2017

Introducing the dig

For the first time in a long time, I would join a regular Thursdaynighter trip. Or would I? Since the dig sort of took over, we have been deciding late what to do and where to go. This time was no exception; on Tuesday I started mailing around. I wanted to go to our digs, of course, but soon I had a reply from Paul he wanted to go elsewhere in the same mine. Soon a message arrived too from a chap I hadn't met yet, as he had only done two of our trips, and both ones I hadn't joined due to being in the dig. He wanted to visit either part of the mine! That was good, but didn't help decide. His girlfriend would come too but we didn't know if she had a preference. The trip was posted up on the forum as going both places. We would probably only be four people though, so that was a bit of a stretch.

Then another voice piped up; irregular Thursdaynighter Corin. He said he'd make a a decision there and then. And on the day itself I found out Jay came too. So we were six! Maybe we would have two trips.

On the parking lot it became clear Corin was interested in joining me, and the rest wanted to go with Paul. Corin's preference might have had to do more that the digs are a lot closer to the entrance than where Paul would be going than with his keenness on the digs, but hey ho. Corin had a dodgy ankle and wasn't keen on long walks...

We went in and split up. I walked with Corin to the pitch. He was slow with his ankle, but that was alright. On the pitch he struggled, but he got there. Time to go to Dig 2!

He struggled in the first crawl through a chamber. And the second too. And the third! But he got there. I showed him the graffiti. On my own I went into the next chamber to look at the void Miles had pointed out. I didn't see anything promising! Along the way I did a tiny bit of rock removal, and I tidied up our detonation wire. I wasn't only a tourist guide!

It was time to go back. We negotiated the crawls again, and went to Dig 1. Corin was very impressed with the sheer amount of material we had moved. And rightly so!

We went into the second chamber. There Corin decided it was enough. He was going to have a cigarette and some coffee while I went on. I promised to be back by nine. If I wouldn't come back he'd go and find the other group...

I went into the next passage. I wanted to have a go at photographing the next chambe rup. I hadn't brought my tripod, but I thought this one wasn't too big, quite unlike the previous one I had explored. I was wrong! This one was enormous too. I ventured to what looked like the end, but might not have been; I was already pushing it for time. I turned around and tried to get back by nine. And failed... oh dear. But in a collapsed chamber you can't hurry; you have to be careful. Five past nine I saw Corin's light again. He hadn't got too worried yet!

The lower bit of the chamber; for scale I put a stick figure in. I had to have a bit of a guess at the right size!

We had another cup of tea and then we went back up. Not too soon; Corin was limping by now and we were slow. The other group was already at the meeting point. They had had a good time too. But now it was time to go out!

When we tried to walk down to the cars we were almost blown back up the hill. The weather was vile! But we got home safely. A good trip, with both diggers and non-diggers catered for! And Corin didn't regret his outing, ankle or not...

06 February 2017

New job starts at speed

A new day, a new phase. I am a lecturer now! It sounds very responsible. Of course I've already lectured more in my latest postdoc job than I will in this entire post, but hey ho. This time it's official!

On my first day I started lecturing at 9AM. It meant, of course, I had had to prepare in my own time. That does mean the university had been stingy, but I can't say I am surprised, nor do I have a strong precedent in saying no to unpaid work. I hadn't prepared as well as I like to do; there is a limit as to how much unpaid work is a good idea.

 Waiting for the previous lecture to end so I can go in

When I was back in the office after the lecture I decided to sort out my science communication module; I had to figure out what to do with my students and when, book rooms for these occasions, and email them what I'd come up with.

Then I communicated with teaching administration about getting first year's tutees; I will be assigned some, but until that has happened I won't see the allotted time slots so can't start planning much. They've not appeared yet!

Then I had a look at the Climate and Climate Change module that is about to kick off. I am module leader, so should have a solid grip on what goes on, but things had already got complicated before I started. I had been asked to do a day in the field with the first year students, but that had been booked over the top of three lectures in the climate change module. The timetabling unit had probably not noticed the clash because at the time, I wasn't assigned to that module yet. But that meant I had to now move these lectures further back. In itself not a problem, but as the module leader I am suppose to introduce the module. Now I would be the fourth or so person on the scene! That defies the purpose of an introduction. I had to try and move one of my lectures as far forward as I could!

I also noticed the deadlines were all over the place. Different dates on different websites, and some on Saturdays; that's no good. I also had to have a look at the lectures I'll be giving, and update them if needs be. This is the most political module I've ever taught in, and politics changes quickly. A lot of updating needs doing!

In between doing that, I phoned a clleague about the day in the field coming up. I had no idea what to expect; I had not been before. Unfortunately, it had always been organised by James, and now nobody knew who would do what, where the materials were, who would prepare the site, etc etc. That required a lot of running around trying to get our heads around this!

Altogether it was a day of running from one topic to the next. Luckily I had a break in the middle; I went to briefly walk my favourite dog. That was nice for the both of us! And this was only the first day! The coming weeks it will stay like this. I think by April things will be slightly less hectic!

04 February 2017

Ready for another phase of digging

The last session in Dig 2, which lasted 9 hours, killed off my knee pads. I needed to snap into action and sort that situation out! And I have. I had already bought materials for replacement some time ago, and now I had time to put them together. I made them pretty much the same way as the previous pair: buy knee supports, sew a patch of neoprene over the "donut" at the front (these supports tend to leave your patella free), place some padding on the neoprene (the previous time it was the gel from a gel knee pad, now I used silicone sealant), and sew something hard over that. This time I tried 3mm thick leather. It should be hard enough, and it's a lot easier to manage than the hard plastic of industrial knee pads! I hope they'll perform well. And I hope I can put them to use the very next Thursday!

Work in progress

The finished products

03 February 2017

Another day in the hills

I was hoping I'd have time to have a mooch around in the hills in my time between jobs. And to a certain extent it's happening! I had gone the previous weekend, and the weather forecast inspired me to go again this week. I had a big mountain on my list; Moel Hebog. A bit further west than all the famous mountains such as Snowdon and Cnicht and the Carneddau and the Moelwyns. Having a bit of a preview on Google Maps drew my attention to a slate quarry to its south: Gorseddau Quarry. Interesting! I checked whether one of my underground mates, who had once offered to show me some interesting things on Hebog, was available to join me, but unfortunately he wasn't.

The weather was supposed to be good in the morning and most of the afternoon. However, when I got up and got ready, I also re-checked the weather forecast, and it had changed its mind to heavy rain until 11-12 AM and then sun. I postponed my trip a bit! And decided that with a shorter day I needed a shorter trip; I would just head to the slate quarry and probably forget about the mountain.

I got to Beddgelert by 11AM and it was still raining quite a lot. I read a bit of newspaper in the car until the worst seemed over. Then I set off. I walked through the village to a footbridge over the (steam) railway, crossed it, and immediately I was in a beautiful landscape. Isn't Wales lovely!

This picture is taken only meters outside Beddgelert

 Very autumnal looking scene

I walked up the path that sometimes was clear and sometimes most certainly wasn't. At some point it seemed to go the wrong way, so I went bushwhacking. It also started raining again. I was getting hungry, but it's not very nice having your lunch in the rain, so I walked on. The absence of path slowly rounded a hill; I expected to see the quarry a bit earlier than it actually did. It was a bit miserable in that weather and on a grassy slope without a path! At least it stopped raining again. And then I hit an almost proper path.

Low clouds over a dry stone wall

After not too long the path lead over a crest. The wind hit me only seconds before the view of the quarry did too. Cool! I decided to go back to the lee side of the hill and have lunch. Then I'd explore the quarry! And so I did.

The first view of the quarry

The quarry was very pretty in the afternoon sun. It was also rather pristine; there was a public footpath coming past, but clearly not a very well-used one. I had seen no other human since crossing the railway bridge and I wouldn't on the way back. So this quarry was just left to its own devices; no new paths, no fences, no signs; just a quarry.

The quarry seen from above

The quarry seen from the other side

I had a bit of a mooch around. Then I set off on my way back. I took the same route; with the sun out, the route would look quite different. And it did! I enjoyed amazing views of the snow-dusted peaks of the Snowdon Horseshoe, Cnicht, Moel Siabod and Moelwyn Mawr. Lovely!

The snow-dusted peaks of Snowdonia in the distance 

Happy selfie
Moel Hebog, which I hope I'll visit some other day

I got back at the car when the afternoon sun was turning orange. Maybe my timing had been imperfect! But that's how things go. I had had a nice walk! But now I was keen to get these soggy socks and shoes off...

02 February 2017

Wear and tear in the dig

The whole reason one wears knee pads is that one crawls around in abrasive environments. Knee pads therefore don't last forever! Unfortunately.

Two and a half years ago I had made a pair of knee pads that would suit my needs. It was a lot of work! And they have served me well. They needed a lot of maintenance; the things stay on because of the rough end of velcro attaching itself to the material of the knee braces that form the base. But that's not a very strong attachment, and it gets worse when the material gets dirty. I have had to add a lot of velcro, both the rough and soft parts, to keep them in place. That did the job.

From summer on, work in the dig had been regular, and since October even intense. And I tend to be on crawling-around duty! I really need the knee pads in there, and after some weeks coming out with blue elbows I also invested in elbow pads again. I found a discounted pair of skater's pads online and bought them; they do snag in tight places, but they stay on and they provide a lot of protection. A good investment! But in the meantime my knee pads suffered. During a particularly heavy session the plastic pad on one of them had broken, and I had stitched that together again. But it sort of showed they were on their way out. After a nine hour session in Dig 2 that involved indeed a lot of crawling I saw both had pretty much given up. The plastic outer bit is too brittle to last forever! But I'll need the protection so I have to snap into action. I tend to already come out with bruises all over if I wear knee and elbow pads; I don't want to know what state I'd be in if I went without.

The hard bits of my old knee pads; they've both broken into bits. Notice the old repair on the right one...

I had already bought material to make a new pair; this time I chose leather as an outer layer. That's a bit more flexible. Now that I'm briefly unemployed I have time to make the new pair, and soon they'll be put to use. I hope they'll perform well! There is more crawling to do in our digs...

01 February 2017

Temporal end to a string of breakthroughs

My Sheffield job was done, and my PGCertHE was as good as done, so when Miles suggested doing another full Thursday in the dig I jumped to the occasion. It weas a beautiful, sunny day, but one can't let an opportunity to dig slip. Our very ambitious aim was to get Miles through the collapse I had only scaled the previous time. As it was, it was quite tight for me; there was work to be done! And Miles also wanted to extend electricity all the way to that crawl, so that would be him doing other things for hours.

We got down and I went to fetch the cable Miles would use. It was in the other dig, but we had no acute plans to use electricity in there so I went down to retrieve it. It is rather unwieldy thick heavy stuff which I have been lugging all over the place several times before, and un-knitting it from the crawl it went through was a bit of a chore; so much so Miles came to see what the hell I was doing. But we got it!

Then we went in. I would start on the Crux while Miles would bring electricity through; we had a cable there already, bit it was so thin the voltage dropped massively along the way; hence his plan to replace it with the white cable. I took the drill and started drilling holes in the rocks that made the Crux the Crux. I attacked four rocks; I figured that was a good start. When these were out of the way it would be clear if anything more would be needed.

Last picture of the Crux

We blasted them. Success! Suddenly the Crux was Crux Chamber. I lugged some of the rocks out and it was a passage. I thought it would be an idea to see if  that meant it was now Miles-proof. He lugged a few more rocks out (he's that kind of man) and then indeed went all the way into the new chamber. Success!

With the halfway mark now cleared it was time to have a look at the far end! I had hoped to be able to improve that with a crowbar, especially from the spacier outside, but that wasn't going to happen. When I was out anyway, though, I went through and stuck my head in the next collapse. You could just crawl in for meters! Not all the way, but there was a little gap you could look through. We should be able to open that up without too much faff! And I also now noticed some graffiti. Nice!

The open passage in chamber Y 

R Jones was here!

A portrait; Miles thought it looks like Queen Victoria. There might be a law against that.

I went back and retrieved the drill for drilling two holes in a rock that made things rather complicated. When that was blasted things looked a lot better! I could now pass comfortably through.Very nice!

One can see why this rock displeased me

Even though now the route was fine for me, I figured the life expectancy of a rock you had to slither over was short. Miles would not put up with something like that! So I suggested we blast that too. We still had battery power. While we were waiting for the resin to set I did something rare; I had to go for a leak. During earlier resin-drying breaks we had been drinking so much tea (I had come in with three flasks and a water bottle) I now had to retreat. A bit of a faff if you're a woman in a one-piece furry suit and an one-piece caving suit. But a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!

Blasting the rock did improve things a lot. I went in to clear the rubble out while Miles further attacked the front of the crawl. My tidying went alright, although to my disappointment there were still two sticky-outy bits in the way. One was the rock I'd blasted; it had not crumbled as far back as I'd hoped, and when I tried to lower the floor in order to provide more accommodation space that way I could remove quite a lot but not one big rock, that now stuck out upwards. Oh dear! But it was easily big enough for me and I had hope for Miles. Would he give it a try? He did!

It was a bit of a squeeze to get past the sticky-outy rocks but he got there! Success! I was very happy. Now he could see the level for himself! He wasn't enjoying the deep cold water though. I had made sure to wear neoprene socks so I was alright. When we got to the next chamber it was clear he was on a roll now. He went in! And he had a detachable lamp, so he could shine it into the narrow gap at the end, and he said it looked promising. He also looked up and saw a void. Maybe a project for the next time?

Miles inspecting the next collapsed chamber

When we came back he also spotted a void in the previous chamber. He suggested I climb up but I wasn't so keen on climbing onto all that hanging death. And by then it was 8PM; such things are done best when fresh! We went back.

Miles had been drilling holes at the entrance. He also didn't like a rock in the ceiling at the entrance to Crux Chamber so we had drilled that too. This was a blast-intensive day! But we had reached the end; there wasn't enough battery power left to drill my sticky-outy rocks. Miles wired up the rock in the ceiling while I did the same for the ones at the entrance. We would blast these and then go home. It had been a long day!

We did, saw the results, and packed up. By 10PM I was back at my car. No idea when we'll be back! Miles said he would be too busy to come back for at least one week, but maybe more. We'll see! I can't do much in there without a drill and explosives, and Miles had taken all of that out. But the next week my new job would start and I might be very busy myself. I was glad we had ended on such a high note! And maybe the next step will be going back to the other dig. No reason to not work from both ends!