30 April 2017

The girl on the train

I read a modern book! This time, not the first time, my mother was the inspiration. She happened to have the Girl on the Train, and when I visited I started it, and got interested. I took it back with me (with her explicit consent, of course).

It was very gripping! I liked the way people project whatnot onto each other, and end up being forced to reconsider. We spend our lives making assumptions, and hopefully recalibrating all the time. And sometimes your initial assessment is quite, quite far off from the final one. We've all been there! And the differences in how various people, including themselves, view the same person are quite convincing too, or at least to me.

What I was less keen on were a few moments of my suspended disbelief falling down. When? Allow me to place a spoiler alert here now. I will shroud myself in generalities but those who haven't read the book and still want to may want to stop here anyway.

From the beginning it is clear the main character has (had) blackouts, and it is explained in the book that if you are so drunk you don't remember what you've done, this is because you didn't make any memories at the time. That way they can't come back to you. But in the book, they do after all. Not sure about that. And do people really jump into bed with each other that easily? One would hope not.

In the very end I thought things went really wonky; there is a scene in which a crime is committed, and one person gets their fingerprints all over an important item and nobody seems to notice. Surely the police would check such things? Even if someone confesses I am sure they check the evidence against the confession. For me that was a bit of an anticlimax.

Final judgement? A quick and exciting read, but I won't re-read it.

29 April 2017

Ad hoc rope training

An email came out of the blue: did anyone want to do an evening of Mountain Leader-required rope work on a Monday? Well I had no idea what that entailed, but I am always keen to improve my mountain skills. I registered for it. And on that Monday I gathered some random stuff as I still didn't know what the evening would entail, and drove down. We would meet at 5.30.

I found Simon, the instructor, with whom I had done a scrambling day before. He explained a bit more what we would do; the session was mainly about being on a mountain with a group of people, and something going wrong to such extent that a rope (but nothing else) is both needed and available for sorting the situation out. That sounded useful, even though I tend not to find myself in that situation. A good skill set to have nonetheless. It might very well one day come in handy underground as well!

Later the other people arrived, but by the time we were complete it was past 6. We had to get a move on! And "we" also included Simon's handsome and snorty dog Mel. A nice bonus! We walked to some nearby rock outcrops and started with discussing kit; what rope to bring? How long? When to use it? The dog was a bit overly keen on contributing to the goings-on but we still managed to discuss it all. Then we went on improvising belays. You need to find an anchor, attach the rope to it, attach yourself to it, then attach your people to the rope and move them safely up or down. Or otherwise find an anchor without sharp edges (not always easy) and run the rope around it. That's quicker!

That done we practiced another knot for tying groups together, and some ways of abseiling on a rope alone. It's not very comfortable, but sometimes it might be necessary! But by then a rather cold wind had picked up, and I regretted not having packed my down jacket. It was time to go back to Plas-y-Brenin for a cup of tea...

We walked back under the evening sky which was turning orange. Simon managed to convince his dog not to eat a sheep placenta. The men were keen to go home, but the women had a cup of tea in the PyB bar. It had been a good evening outside! I learned something, and I was outside. Freezing, but outside. The alternative would have been climbing in Indy; I'm sure I will get my opportunities to catch up with that!

Looking for anchors

Mel gives us her most sceptical stare

Lydia flaking a rope

Having fun with a classic abseil while the evening sun paints Moel Siabod orange

The skuy turning orange while we walk back

28 April 2017

Knee pads sorted for now

I know this is already the umpteenth time I write about knee pads, but these things matter. I wrote about making a new set after the old set fell apart; then I mentioned the new ones already started to come undone and that I had made a start with fitting a new hard(ish) outer layer on them. Thanks to some more work on all of them, including during the AGM of the cave rescue team, they are now both up to date. And they will wear out all the time, but it's good to start a period of wear and tear (hopefully; there had been no digging the previous week) from a position of having two good pairs. I will be able to keep up! Doing some re-stitching doesn't cost a lot of time. And I have one leather pad that has been slightly pre-formed, and which had little gullies burned into it with a hot gimlet, and now I'll see if that one is more comfortable due to the shape, and lasts longer due to the stitching being embedded. If so I know what to do if I need to put new outer layers on! I already have leather waiting...

The two pairs of knee protectors; the second one from the top has the elaborate leather pad

27 April 2017

Rescue practice

It was that time again! The AGM of the cave rescue team. And we always do some training first. We tend to do some communications, some first aid, and some rigging. Useful! I had only just done a first aid course but you remember things better when you practice them. First aiders really love acronyms (remember your Dr. ABC, your AVPU, your FAST, your FISH SHAPED?) but the lady who taught this sessions used different ones, and I think I'll stick to the ones from the first aid course. One set of acronyms is enough! And the practical differences tend to be minimal. It was a pleasant session, as the people are nice and we could do it outside, on the grass. It was excellent weather!

The rigging was useful! I rigged my first Z-rig in 2009, but given we never get call-outs I don't practice such things outside cave rescue training and we only have a few per year. I need all of them! So I needed reminding of how you do it. We also practiced a releasable deviation. That will come in handy! In the unlikely case we ever get a real call-out, that is...

26 April 2017

Weekend run

I had such a good plan! But it went wrong. I wanted to see the slate mine I had seen from a distance before Easter. The map it is on, though, does not show the whole way. I thought I'd get there on my satnav. I forgot I bought a lorry satnav, as it was cheaper. The tiny road I wanted to drive down is probably too small for a lorry. My satnav got me to the right village from the main road, but sent me straight back to said main road from there. What? I didn't have a map so I just drove in what seemed like the right direction, hoping to end up on the map in the end. I did, but not in the right place! But I ended up in a beautiful place anyway, and just had a run there. I had ended up at Llyn Cwm Dulyn, a very nice reservoir. I set off in a tank top and shorts; that was a bit cold as the logical way was up, and on hilltops it is windy. It was alright, though! And very very quiet. On sunny Saturdays there are plenty of areas in Snowdonia that are very busy.

I ran to the hilltop, or rather, I half walked and half ran up; then I half ran and half walked down. I had a sandwich and some tea at the car, and then I ran a little more on the road. At least that was a bit more consistent running! But then it was time to go home. I had stuff to do!

View from where I parked the car; the cwm in the distance contains the reservoir

The reservoir

Summery selfie

View from the top

25 April 2017


Two years ago we had a through trip in the mine opposite the one we have our digs in. We couldn't enjoy it for very long! The bottleneck in the route collapsed again. David and Paul had had a look at it since, and David was keen to go back and try again to unblock it. As Miles was otherwise engaged this week, and there therefore wasn't any digging going on, I was there too. We first went into the bottom to look at the blockage from below. Didn't look too good! And the place is rather wet so you don't want to linger there.

Phil looks at the blockage from below

We were with six people; quite a lot for a place like that. I went up and had a look; then David suggested I go down again and make place for another person. I ended up having a chat with Phil in the chamber while the other men were bashing away at the blockage. They made progress, but not enough to get through!

We then went up to approach the blockage from the other side. That is a bit of a way. There David was a bit cautious; he figured a lot of the rocks there were perched precariously above the hole and could roll down any second. Staying away doesn't unblock a blockage, though, so we had to chance it anyway. I stayed in the background; I had had a headache all day and wasn't particularly keen. And standing in places David deems dangerous gets you yelled at, and I find that unpleasant enough when I don't have a headache. I drank tea and watched the men work!

Phil jumped in and tried to move a big rock that was in the way. With some clobbering-off of pesky edges of the rock, and levering with a convenient piece of rails we had found, we managed to roll it over into a better position. Then we tried to use the rail to drop the blocking rocks down the hole but that didn't work. And time was ticking away! I was keen to go home, but that tends not to mean much to the others. Luckily Simon was tired too. We left it and went back! I initially went the wrong way, which didn't do anything for my mood (David and Phil had seen me set off but Phil thought it was on purpose and David had whispered I was going the wrong way, which he erroneously believed I would had heard). Oh well. We got out eventually, and got home. We should go back some day soon.

 David getting rid of some edge that was in the way.

We might see if one more session with the rails will do the job; otherwise we should get Miles involved, as he leases this mine too, and can just come in and blow up the blocking rocks by means of a normal day in the office. It would be nice to have that through trip back!

24 April 2017

TV ostracised

Last summer I suddenly noticed I hadn't watched television for a while. I quite liked it that way; since then, I have only watched one and a half episode of Planet Earth II (if you have a TV anyway, this is something you might as well watch) and one programme on S4C, as I had to watch something as homework for Welsh class. That was it. I'm not going to keep paying for a license fee if I only want to watch three programmes per year. I can cut these out too! So I have decided to let go of it. I think I'll keep the TV for now as that means I can still organise a film night (not that that happens very often), but maybe in the long run the entire TV will just go. Who needs one!

Find the TV

22 April 2017

Easter in the Netherlands

Normally I avoid the Netherlands during Easter! Many of my friends go hiking then. But this year I was late with booking a spring trip, and I am not biblical enough to know off by heart when Easter is, so I accidentally booked my trip slap bang in the middle of it. My main aim in the Netherlands is always my mother, and she doesn't go hiking then, so it wasn't a problem. But I would have a more family-focussed trip this time than usual!

I spent most of the time with my mother. That's always nice! We went to the cheese shop and I tuned a radio for her and I worked on a piece of leather for a knee pad I had brought. And I had brought some work stuff to read. And of course we drank buckets of coffee, tea and wine. Lovely!

 A Rietveld chair had appeared at the Koppelpoort

I also had left running kit at her place last time; so without having to lug bulky shoes to the Netherlands I could go for a run. I ran down memory lane; when I was a small kid, my dad often took my sisters and me to a nearby area with wind-blown dunes. Not the coastal ones (although he did that too, but that was logistically more work) but some which are a relic from the second-last ice age. I ran all the way to them! Not onto them; the loose sand is a pain for running, but it was great to see them again. I hadn't been in so long! There's still something magic about that landscape.

The dunes!

One of the few not hiking was Floor, so we could meet up. We went for dinner in Amsterdam. Train travel between Amersfoort and Amsterdam wasn't possible so I travelled via Utrecht, but hey ho. We met in an Indonesian restaurant I had quickly googled at Manchester Airport. I think it was a good choice! It was in Bos en Lommer, so we avoided any outrageous Easter tourist crowds which would restrict themselves to the centre, and the food was amazing. And Floor had come by train, so he could have a beer. After dinner we walked in the direction of Central Station, and when we passed a pub we decided to go for an extra pint. Or rather, an extra 30cl of beer; this is Amsterdam after all. It was good to catch up! So good I turned out to have the last train home. Oh well. I still came home!

I travelled over station Sloterdijk; not the most scenic part of Amsterdam, but it was sunny

I also popped by my sister, who had just rowed a marathon; she was in bed when I arrived (the rowing had taken place at rather unusual hours) but that was OK; that way I could catch up with her husband and children. My niece now has a harp! And she played me a welcome song. I was touched. When my sister appeared she announced she was fine; no aching muscles to speak of. Good work!

In the evening we went out for dinner with one of our cousins; we try to do a cousin dinner a few times a year, but there are only seven of us in total, so it never gets too crowded. We are spread out over four different countries; two different continents, even. And not everybody is on speaking terms with everybody. And the youngest of seven had just had a child! He has other things on his mind now. Like not letting the family name go extinct. So three out of seven wasn't bad. And as usual it was good!

Cousin dinner with Petra, Sandra and me, posing with our desserts

The next day we had a relaxed breakfast, and when that had gone down a bit I went for another run. My niece offered to come with me! That sounded good. The whole family has running on its mind; every year the town organised a City Run and it had just been. It was still resonating! We set off; she suggested we do her usual loop. Fine with me! Except that my presence seemed to distract her a bit and within minutes we had veered off her usual route. We traversed the entire heather field in all sorts of directions. After a longer run than intended we got back to town. When we reached the houses again I asked if she was OK with me adding a little loop; I wanted to do some distance at 41-year-old speed rather than 10-year-old-speed. She was! So I did half an hour extra and came back satisfied.

That night I went back to my mother. The next morning I would go to my dad, who had been hiking in the Ardennes. I woke up before my mother; I did my exercises and had a shower, hoping she would stir too. I would only have limited time at my dad's! When she still didn't I woke her up. Then we had breakfast together and then I was gone again. I'll be back in ~2.5 months!

My dad came to pick me up from the railway station, and made me some coffee. Then he left again; he had to pick up the elderly lady from a few doors down. So nice, a street in which the people look after each other! Then he came back and we had some lunch. Then we went for a walk. A family process had started of discussing the time between the divorce and us leaving home, and I had some things to say. That went well, except for the violent hailstorm that festooned my words. It was a confusing time; for me it was between the ages of 12 and 17, and that probably is a confusing time anyway, but sharing it with two other confused teenagers and a father to whom parenting doesn't come naturally exacerbates the situation. But we're making progress making sense of it!

And then it was time to go home. All went well! On the airport I did some more work, which would alleviate the post-Easter work rush. Altogether a successful home visit! And I already know when I'll be back...

Reading articles with a backdrop of KLM planes

20 April 2017

Essays as far as the eye can see

No contact hours doen't mean no work. For my fourth year module my twenty students had to write a 4000 word essay each on a climate topic. That's a lot of work to mark! Luckily they are quite interesting, and they even pointed me in the direction of some interesting articles I wasn't aware of. There is a lot to climate and I'm not up to date on all of it!

When I was done with these, I had a left-over first year essay to mark. Then I moved on to the pile of second year essays... These were on fairly arbitrary topics. That went a bit quicker. Most of them are done now. I enjoyed it, but I think I should learn to be a bit faster. I spend too much time on this...

When it's all done I can move on to making assessments, making a new reference collection, and changing the fieldwork assignment (again). And start on organising the entire field trip! That's daunting...

19 April 2017

Trying digging upwards

We had managed to tunnel through four chambers, but the fifth one in the succession was proving quite a challenge. The collapse that blocked the way was substantial, the rock quality was appalling, and there wasn't much space to put spoil. We decided to try another way; there was a level above the one we were in, and perhaps we could get to it by tunnelling upwards. We had plenty of places to start! We decided to first give it a go at the very beginning of the dig.

Miles couldn't come early so we met at the parking lot. I had brought my big bag, as I was well aware all the kit (drill, extension lead, crowbar, etc etc) was at the far end of the dig, and that I was the likely candidate to go and get it. And that's what happened. We went down, had a look at where we might start, and then I was off. It was a bit of faff to get all the heavy and bulky kit back, but I managed. I also tried to take some pics of the artefacts that we lying in the water in the furthest level. We might not come here very often anymore!

 A pipe in the water

We decided to try to blow up the wall; that way we would reduce the amount of disruption of the loose blocks, or at least we hoped so. Miles drilled some holes and we charged them. We had stemmed the holes with sand rather than resin, so we could blow them immediately. And with success! There now was a space, and all blocks were still where they had been for some hundred years.

We crowbarred some loose slabs out of the way, and then I had a try climbing up. It went several meters! I chucked some more stuff down and had a look at the next location for shotholes. We have no idea through how much rubble we have to dig, but so far it's going well!

We just had time for one more shothole and one more blast, but that was a bit of a dud. Oh well! More luck next time. Would we manage several meters again? Let's hope so!

18 April 2017


I had heard of Michel Houellebecq for quite a while. It sounded like my kind of writer! I never got around to reading any of his work, though. But then I went to the second-hand book shop with my mother, and there they had a Dutch translation of Elementary Particles. As I can't read this work in the original language I don't mind too much whether the book is translated into English or Dutch. If I can read the original language then I prefer that. But anyway; now I had a Houellebecq. Funnily enough my taste in art (in the wider sense of the word; music, literature, film) has become a bit sunnier over the years, so my taste was moving away from this particular writer. But hey ho!

So what did I think? I liked the nerdy sciency thoughts of the main character. I didn't quite like the views of his half-brother. I knew I wasn't going to be presented with a wildly enthusiastic view on humanity, but Bruno, the half-brother, overdoes it. It's not as if his acquaintance with the world gave him much reason for optimism, but one can make something out of a life, can't one?

I thought the denouement was a bit underwhelming. Maybe that was because it was kept abstract; there was no account of how the societal change was experienced by people. It was just commented on from a distance. Maybe reading this after Cloud Atlas was a strategic mistake.

So what was the judgement altogether? Not my favourite. I do think the translation was good, though...

17 April 2017

More knee pad maintenance

Only a few months ago I made a new pair of knee pads. I used leather as the outer coating. I figured it wouldn't be as hard and durable as the plastic I had used before, but it would be easier to process! And that was true. It wasn't that much work to make them. But they suffer from wear and tear...

I recently saw the stitching was already wearing through. That wasn't the case, ever, with the plastic; I had melted gullies for the tread into the material. That way the stitching was protected. That worked! In the end it was the plastic breaking that was the problem. And the leather pads don't have sunk stitching so it wears through quickly. I decided I needed to repair the old batch so I could take the new batch out of circulation for repair before things got much worse.

As I still had leather left I decided to remake these old pads in the image of the new ones. Easy come, easy go! But I think as soon as I repair the new pair I should improve on the design; maybe try curving the leather so the knee pad sits nicer around the knee, and maybe try to sink the stitching. That will mean more work, but the balance between effort and result might still be as good as that with the plastic. I was really chuffed with how that worked out, but it is a lot of unpleasant work! Let's see how this pans out. One day I'll find the best way of producing custom-made knee pads... as long as the digs go I will be wearing them out quickly enough to get a lot of practice!

Work in progress

15 April 2017

Moel Hebog, after all

Just before the job started I had thought to go up Moel Hebog, but the weather turned a bit bad and I hadn't. But now another weekend in which I figured I didn't have to work approached, and the whether forecast was lovely. I mailed the same bloke that couldn't make it the previous time, and this time he was available. Moel Hebog, here we would come!

Chris picked me up at 8AM and we drove to Beddgelert. We set off on the same path I had used the previous time, but soon we veered off to the north. It was a lovely day and the views were lovely! We walked up. After a while we came to an amazing outcrop of pillow lavas. They were amazing! We sat down for a coffee. When we set off again we soon came to the summit. Very nice! We had lunch there.

The amazing pillow lavas

Chris walking up

At the top!

From the summit we decided to head along the ridge; past the local copper mine, and over several more summits, and then back through the woods. We didn't have helmets and I didn't have a torch, and we weren't keen on getting our walking boots wet, so we didn't do anything other with the mine than admire it from the outside. But it was nice anyway!

From a distance we also saw the Prince of Wales slate quarry. I will have to visit that one some day soon! It looked lovely.

Pretty landscape

 Relaxed lamb

By half past four we were back at the car. It had been a good day! I was a bit sunburnt (oh dear) but that was a modest sacrifice. Chris had been feeling a bit bad about having a much slower pace than me, but I didn't mind. It was nice to have company for a change! And he is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge. He knows everything about the history (especially the stuff from palaeolithic to iron age) and even about the geology of the region. We might very well do this again!

12 April 2017

Unblocking the dig again

It was time to clean up my mess! Two weeks ago, I had left the dig with lots of stuff in the final passage due to a blast done rather late in the day. The week before we had been elsewhere. Now I could finally sort this out! And I could also finally get comfortable at the far end of the dig, as I had packed my waders. The water is rather deep there. And cold!

I got to the parking lot early as I had been in a first aid course which finished early. No use going back to the office first! I had not even taken off a shoe or I heard a heavy engine. Miles was early too! I changed and we walked up. It was nice weather!

We got to the messy part of the dig and decided to try to blow up the big slab that had come down the previous time. We were a bit short on supplies though! Only big charges, not much resin, the wrong nozzles... and we had trouble with the resin gun. Again! But we managed. We tried to blow the thing up but failed. Then we tried to break it up with the breaker. That didn't work either. Then I crawled over it and drilled two holes from the other side. That worked! We got rid of the rubble and found ourselves with a lovely passage. And there was still time to go through!

I lugged the waders through the passage. And the tripod! My pics the previous time had been shit. I wasn't comfortable in the water and had rushed the photography. Now I would be more snug. And it worked! I was quite comfortable in the passage. I took some pics. This time there was a bit of an issue with smoke in the passage due to the blasting on a day with little draught, but well. Miles had another prod at the blockage but it still looked pretty much hopeless. Time to go home...

When we got out it still was light enough to walk down without our head torches on. Very nice! This wasn't the most productive night in the dig (in spite of it being nicely long) but one has days like that. And maybe next time we'll try to go up rather than ahead. It might be easier!

11 April 2017

First aid course

I had been going into the field with students, without having a first aid qualification. Showing the students Cwm Idwal and Red Wharf Bay that wasn't a problem; we the teaching staff were shadowed by qualified technical staff. On the beach with the glacial sediments, though, there were only two of us, and the other lady can't stand the look of blood. Oh dear! And perhaps worse than that: I was a full member of the cave rescue team who didn't have a first aid qualification. Not quite right. I had got my first official certificate in 2012; that had clearly run out by now. The time never had seemed right to renew, but now that I had a teaching job in which I would be taking students into the field every day for more than a week on my own, and in which there was a bit of a lull in April and May, I figured the time was right to get re-qualified. I discussed this with the Head of School, who is my line manager; he thought it was an excellent idea. I registered for a course through university.

The day came my course started. It was a relaxed business; it was in Parc Menai, which is only 20 minutes on bike, and the weather was good; they also didn't start until 9:30AM. I got there early, at the same time as a bloke who would turn out to be called Lee. We were shown to the coffee room. Excellent! Then others came in; lots of Welsh-speaking people. Good! That means I could practice a bit.

When we started we had to introduce ourselves; we had Dilwyn from Neuadd Ogwen, Dewi from a charity called Antur Waunfawr, Llion who was a sports teacher at a school, Elaine who worked for nursery Tir-na-nog, and Alwen and Sharon from a school for kids with learning difficulties. Lee worked for construction company Watkin Jones and then there was me. A bit more of a varied group than the cave rescuers I had trained with the previous time! The instructor was Gwyn Jones and he was an ex-paramedic.

It started for real. We went through a syllabus; the information was, of course, very useful but most of it I more or less remembered from last time, and the speed was low. I am used to processing information at quite a tempo (otherwise I can't do my job), so this was somewhere between frustrating and relaxing. We started with the basic checks you do when you come across someone who is unwell, and went through some various scenarios that can lead to people losing consciousness and how you distinguish them, and so on.We also did CPR. We had frequent coffee/tea breaks so I could keep my caffeine and water levels up.

We had a 45 minute lunch break; the others went to a nearby cafe, but I had my sandwiches with me, and work to do, so I didn't join them Instead I found myself a rock to sit on in a copse, and ate my lunch there, while working a bit on an article I am a co-author on. It was quite nice!

My lunch spot for the duration of the course

We were done quite early, so I biked back to the office and did some more work. The next day was Thursday, so when we finished I just drove to Blaenau Ffestiniog and got there only minutes before Miles appeared. The last day we were done by around 2PM so I could work quite a lot afterwards.

But back to the actual course. We discussed all the common topics; cuts, fractures, heart problems, eye injuries, poisoning, choking; you name it. We practiced the Heimlich manoeuvre using some special vest with an air chamber and a blocking thingy. If you do your abdominal thrusts well the thingy comes flying out. Cool! The most trying aspects was fractures; Gwyn showed us a video with the six most horrific injuries from the 2016 Olympic games. Believe me, there were two that are hard to see. Brrr!

On the last day we did two MCQ tests; we had to get a certain percentage correct to qualify. I did both of them flawless and got some spelling errors out as well. I'm not ashamed of being a swotty kid.

When I biked back to Anglesey afterwards I figured I hadn't learned many new things but it had been good to repeat this stuff, and I felt a lot more confident about using it. I hope I won't need to, but I'm glad I did it. And in addition, I had finished with the paper I had been working ion during the lunch breaks. I also realised I had left my syllabus, but I have the St John's Ambulance book at home. That will sort me out when I want to revise before going into the field with the students!

09 April 2017

Got the job

On Thursday I sent in my application for the eight month extension of my job. On Saturday, during the open day, I was nervously asked by the Head of School if I had applied. I had! He hadn't heard from HR yet and was getting nervous. I could reassure him.

On Monday I walked past a lab, which had one of my 4th year students in it, and Stella, who until recently had been my office mate. The student said someone had been looking for me; he didn't know who. Stella informed him that had been the Head of School. That could be good news! I went to his office.

He was just emailing me. He asked me if I could do an interview there and then. Well, I could! I had been the only applicant so it would be a formality. Good! I was in a normal 'I don't have to teach today' outfit with pink jeans and a loud shirt. I've never done a live job interview in something like that! (Phone or video interviews are another matter, of course) But why not. It needed another person, though, so my colleague Dei was phoned. When he appeared I confirmed I accepted the job, and the HoS asked if I was OK with the details given in the advertisement. I told him there were no details in the advertisement, so we discussed some there and then. I get tutees again! Only temporary, until my colleague Katrien comes back from maternity leave. And I will try to get an actual list of duties from Dei; it seems to exist. And some things were becoming clear on their own accord; I had been starting to get emails from colleagues with the question if I could teach on their modules in the next term. Now I could answer them!

So that's it; I'll be teaching at Bangor University until the end of February 2018. I will have been here as long as I have lived in Plymouth. Let's hope I can stay even beyond that!

08 April 2017


I would have dinner with Jaco and Marjan again. Then Marjan mailed; she wanted to see the film "Lion", and the only chance she had was the day of our dinner; we decided to combine the two. It wasn't a film I would have picked, but it sounded interesting enough.

In the morning I sorted my car trouble, in the afternoon I was at a university open day, and then I went up the hill to Jaco and Marjan's house. We had lovely pizza and tiramisu, and some beer, and then we were off. I was enjoying it; I hadn't been to this cinema in months, and not in company in much longer time!

In the cinema, which turned out to be the one I had just taught in the day before, we found a friend of Marjan's of whom she knew she would be there, and we also saw one of Jaco's PhD students with her boyfriend. Then two more PhD students walked in, more associates of the School of Ocean Sciences; that was nice! A popular movie with salty types.

It started. I suppose the story is familiar: small Indian kid gets separated from his family, survives for a while on the streets of Calcutta, ends up in a scary orphanage, and gets adopted by Australian couple. Twenty years later Google Earth is launched, and he sets off on a quest to find his village back. He knows he was in a train for several days before ending up in Calcutta. That restricts his search to pretty much all train lines in India. He does manage to find it, though, and flies out there to find his birth family. And succeeds! The movie is quite long, but it covers a lot. I didn't think it dragged on at all. And you know what is going to happen (I had already read an interview with the original man, Saroo Brierley, in the paper; it's a real story) but I didn't mind.

I liked the casting, the scenery and the music too. There was pretty much only one thing I didn't like, and one question that bugged me afterwards. The thing I didn't like was the film poster (or at least the version I saw; there seem to be more). It mainly shows Dev Patel (who plays Saroo) and Rooney Mara being all romantic. The romance between the characters is not anywhere near the essence of the film. I suspect they put it in as you probably sell a movie better with images of white women being sexual than small Indian boys struggling to survive. But we have enough movies about white women being sexual, thank you very much. Show me the boy! And the kid who plays the young Saroo/Sheru is great.

The question I had is: why didn't Saroo Brierley learn Hindi? He knew that was his mother tongue. He spoke it when he was adopted. His adoptive parents would probably not have been able to distinguish it from Bengali or whatever other language people speak in India (I couldn't tell the difference in the movie), but the adoption organisation certainly could. And now he comes back to his home town and can't exchange a word with his mother. A pity! And I'm sure it's a hard language to learn if you start off from English, but hey, the bloke found his village, which could have been pretty much anywhere in India, on Google Earth; this man is not deterred by things being difficult. Maybe he still will! I hope he does...

07 April 2017

Another tire dead

I have a long but rather narrow drive. I normally park nose-first and as close to the low wall separating my drive from the neighbour's; that way I can get past the car with my bikes, and also with the wheelie bins. That tends to work fine.

On Friday I noticed my car looked a bit bad. I looked closer, and noticed the reason: I had driven it straight into a sticky-outy bolt from the gate (which I don't use; it's always open), which had, of course, lead to a flat tire. Oh dear! At least I noticed now, when I didn't need the car. And I was at  home where I have all the kit. Quite unlike the previous time I had a puncture... And in a way, it's good I managed NOT to damage any tires on that bolt in the three previous years!

I decided to try and change the wheel right there. I re-parked the car and got the wrench and jack out. With a screwdriver I got the hubcap off. Then I tried to undo the bolts. Oh dear! Two of them moved after a lot of persuasion. The other two didn't budge. Not with all the violence in the world. What I needed was more leverage. I texted Guy; would he perhaps have a length of pipe I could slide over the wrench, making it longer that way? He thought he had something to the same effect. I biked over.

He thought he had a breaker bar you could put a wrench-head on. He went out to get it. He turned his entire car upside down without finding it. Another oh dear! Now what? He just gave me advice. Whack the bolts with a hammer. Try twisting them the wrong way. If all of that would fail, we could probably source some pipe at work; we were both involved in an open day the next day, so we would be there anyway, even though it was Saturday.

I got home again and bumped into the neighbour. He is a motor racer so he has an entire garage full of tools. He had what I needed! The exact kind of breaker bar Guy hadn't been able to find. He got the nuts off. He even helped me put the spare tire on. After having brought it to the desired pressure! Everybody should have a neighbour like that.

The next day I drove to the tire centre, ordered a tire, ran to the post office (something was waiting for me there), ran back, still didn't have a tire, ran to the supermarket, did my food shopping, walked back, paid for the tire, and was off.

On Sunday I put the new tire where the damaged one had been. If you have a brand new tire you may as well drive on it! The garage had warned me two of my tires were so worn they wouldn't get through MOT again. Now one of them is replaced! And I made the bolt of the gate less prone to tire destructing with a shoelace and some duct tape. Job done!

There we go again

 The two bolts; the lower one now with a tire-protecting duct tape coat...

06 April 2017

Last contact hour for weeks

I had my last lectures in the Earth, Climate and Evolution lecture this week; one "normal" lecture and one revision lecture. The "normal" lecture was scheduled in one of the cinemas in Pontio; that was quite cool. I never had such a big screen for my presentation!

The revision lecture I hadn't done before, so I had to quickly make one. I decided to make it a sort of pub quiz; the exam is multiple choice, and if you practice multiple choice questions you can have the students answer them by remote control. I had used that method before, for my post-fieldwork-lecture, and I had liked it. Why not do it again! You can see how many of the students get questions wrong and you can explain on the spot. I made a lecture with 33 questions (some of them directly copied and pasted from the exam) and two score boards. We'd see!

On the actual day I got only just beyond halfway. There were only some 25 of the ~90 students. And I think it worked well! Some questions they got quite wrong, but at least they now know before the exam. I got to explain these. And some they did well the first time around. And the rapport with the floor was quite good! I enjoyed it. I don't know who was there so I can't check if the students who were there will score better in the exam than the non-attendees, but well, maybe there will be some comment on this session on the module evaluation forms. I hope so! Although there is little reason to believe I will teach this module again next year...

On the day I did that interactive session I had to run away immediately afterwards to the next activity; that was several hours of student talks for the "communicating science" module. I would do that with Jaco, and he had already started when I got there; a bit cheeky, as he is not supposed to start a 10AM session before 10:10. This is meant for people to get from one lecture room to another (they may be in entirely different buildings), but he knew the students had nothing before 10. Only I did! So I missed half of the first talk.

The talks in general were good. In the lunch break I dealt with a student who had, for no apparent reason, not managed to submit her essay (for the same module) on time, neither digitally nor in hardcopy. Oh dear. It would be easier for everybody if such things wouldn't happen! I didn't have time for lunch this way before we moved on. Many students, however, had refrained from showing up, so by half past one we were done. I could have lunch after all, bring back my clickers (from the interactive lecture), and return to my office. There I spent a lot of time answering the emails of one of the students who had not shown up, but now suddenly had re-emerged and wanted to do his presentation right then. That didn't happen. Bu then it was easter holiday for the university! That doesn't mean no work, but it does mean no contact hours. Essay marking, here I come!

05 April 2017

Brexit on the radio

A long time ago I was asked by Radio Cymru to talk about Brexit. They regularly look for Welsh-speaking foreigners to talk about international issues. The interview never happened. Later they contacted me about the poem by Anne Frank; that interview never happened either.

When I came out of the field recently I found a lot of missed calls and a voicemail and an email. Radio Cymru again! They wanted me to talk about Brexit again, what with article 50 and such. They wanted me for the morning program the next day. I said that was OK but they didn't get back to me. Then they did; too late for the morning program, but would I be willing to swap to the afternoon program? I was. The day rolled on. No sound from Radio Cymru.

A week later they were back. They had a French woman lined up for a chat on yet another morning program; the one on the eve of the triggering of Article 50. Would I be willing to join? I figured they hardly deserved my efforts, but talking Welsh on the radio is just the kind of Welsh challenge I need. I agreed!

An early Tuesday morning I biked to the studio. The receptionist didn't expect me. Oh dear. Had something gone wrong anyway? But some asking around later I got a badge, and was ushered in to some office space with adjacent studios. A lady welcomed me, gave me a cup of coffee (yay!) and pointed to a man in one of the studio spaces: he was the presenter, and would talk to me. A real person! Instead of a disembodied voice coming in through headphones. That's nice.

The BBC building 

When it was time, I was shown in (with a second cup of coffee - yay!), and got introduced to the presenter. He practiced the pronunciation of my name (he didn't quite get it right; as most people do, he put the emphasis of my last name on the last syllable, even though almost all Welsh words have, like my last name, the emphasis on the second last), and said he's asked me about why I'd come to Wales and whether I thought too many immigrants came to Britain. Eh, OK! I had about two minutes to ponder that.

Then it started. The words just didn't come out. It was excruciating! Talking is hard when you're inside a studio. Oh well. The presenter didn't seem to mind. In minutes it was over. A new lady approached me when I stepped out of the studio door again; she was the lady who had asked me in the first place. We had a small chat about what the world was coming to. Then it was time to leave again!

So I've made my debut. I think it went disastrously. We'll see if they'll ask me again!

04 April 2017

Not in the dig

It was a night of cold turkey. It is now such a routine to go digging on Thursday Night it's strange to do something else. And I struggled a bit to get enthusiastic about going into a mine I had been in many times before, and where I was unlikely to see anything new. But Miles was otherwise engaged, and I don't think digging on my own is a good idea. I would be off with the Thursdaynighters for a change! And we were headed for Bwlch y Plwm. I had been before more often than I've blogged about it, it seems...

We drove to Llanfrothen via Groeslon, where David had to pick up some stuff he had bought on eBay. The seller turned out to live on a farm with some fierce-looking border collies. In spite of theis transaction we were in Llanfrothen rather early. Time for a pre-mine coffee!

When we were complete we loaded ourselves into two vehicles as parking at the mine is tight, and set off. The land had recently been sold, and the new owner had put up miles of fencing. That made parking a lot harder! Luckily we were not with more cars.

We changed and set off. I never really remember how to get to the entrance. I ended up walking up with newbie Rich, and with Chris and Lazy Jason, of which the latter two claimed to know the way. Good; then I don't have to. But we walked further than seemed right. And we ended up at the wrong part of Bwlch-y-Plwm. Oh dear! From there, Chris wandered off into oblivion. I did not want to get split up more so I decided to wait for him. When he was back we went back into the more plausible direction; after a while, we heard voices, and not much later I saw the others.

David had rigged the first pitch with his rope; I know he had rather not, as his is longer than mine, and the second pitch is longer than the first. He thought my rope might not be long enough for the second pitch. I thought it was probably OK. He based his judgement on Llion being stuck on my too short rope once, but I was certain I had never been in here with Llion so he must have misremembered at least part of that story.

I went down the first pitch, and went on to the second. I rigged it, making sure there was a knot in the bottom of the rope (just in case!), and waited. I heard voices but they didn't approach. After a long while I went back to see Jason and Rich waiting for something or other while more people were coming down. They came through and Jason went down the pitch. Then David turned out to be right; the rope was too short. Luckily it is a comfortable pitch so Jason patiently waited for the other rope to be put in place. David was all I-told-you-so and what-were-you-thinking but he had been quite dismissive of loads of things I did recently so the criticism had lost its sting.

As we now had in effect had four ropes I came down one of the long ones, helped get Jason swap over to the other long one, and went down after he had reached the bottom. And all was well! Re-rigging is a bit inefficient but nobody died and nobody had been uncomfortable. We went on.

We then came to the level with a traverse and bridge to an alternative exit. The bridge used to have a handline but it didn't anymore. The anchors were, so I rigged an improvised one for Jason, who didn't like the exposure of just the bridge.

Jason on the traverse

After we had looked around on that level we went down. Once at the bottom we decided we were OK with going out and not exploring every corner of that level too. I was sleepy! We got out and changed. Paul and David had been considering checking out another level after this mine, but that just isn't very practical. You don't want to drive to the next place in your dirty and wet kit, and you don't want to change back into your dirty and wet kit after you've exchanged it for your comfy dry civilian outfit. They decided against! We could go home. If they would have persisted I would have had a way out; Chris wasn't keen on the next adit and had already offered me a lift home. But it wasn't necessary! And we were home quite early, in spite of the getting lost and mis-rigging. Nice!

03 April 2017

Job ad

My job runs to the end of June. After that, all bets are off. I know the School of Ocean Sciences would really want to hire someone to do James' teaching in the long run, but the university is not keen on spending any money at all, and there is an official ban on hiring. My five months were already quite a victory over higher management. What would happen after these were over?

I knew the School had applied for 12 months more. That would at least give them a year more to ponder what to do. I also heard rumours about some assessment of our programmes; maybe they want to wait for that before they make big decisions. Anyway; the university has come back with an answer. They have given the school money for eight months worth of James' teaching. The job is only advertised internally.

Of course I applied for it! And I don't think many other people did. And I am already doing the job I am sure I have a very good chance of getting it. Eight more months is not that much, and it runs out in the middle of the year which will provide the School with quite a challenge still. But it is a lot more than nothing at all! Stay tuned!

02 April 2017

Bike issues

How a car can lead to executiveness regarding bicycles. My car had to get its annual MOT, so I brought it to the garage opposite the street from my office. On the day I got the phone call to alert me it was done I had biked into work, so suddenly I had two means of transport with me. Luckily one fits inside the other! So I drove home with my commuter bike in the back. It's the bike I bought in Norway; it doesn't cope well with Welsh weather. The brakes had suffered, the chain was impossibly rusty, and the gears had now rusted into position too. I could just ride it to work and back, if I avoided the steep bits! But it wasn't comfortable anymore. I had intended to give it a good revision for ages but I never seemed to have the time.

When on a Saturday I woke up with a bike in my boot, an errand to run on the mainland and weekend shopping to do, I decided to combine things. I parked up at a mainland supermarket, got the bike out, brought it to the bike shop, and asked the blokes in there what they thought of it. I expected them to say to chuck the bike and buy a new one but they didn't. (They had done that with the black bike, but I had insisted, and never regretted it). They were quite happy to repair it, for a reasonable amount of money! That sounded good. I walked back to the car, did my food shopping, and went home happy. The next week I just used my 'good' bike.

The next Saturday I got a phone call from the bike shop. It was worse than they had thought! They said it would cost £300 to get the bike back on track. I'm sure it never even cost that brand new. I pondered a bit what to do. I have a third bike! A hand-me-down from Rich. Before I would go and by another bike to replace the green one, which has pretty much been declared dead, I wanted to give that one a chance. As it was it wasn't comfortable for commuting, but who knows, maybe it could be brought back to life for less than £300. I loaded it up and went back to the bike shop.

The bike people said that in order to do a thorough job they would have to charge an arm and a leg too. That wasn't worth it! But I asked what it would be if they just dealt with the gears (they had wanted to replace the wheels too, but these are good enough for me) and they said they could do that for a few tens of quid. I settled for that!

On Friday I got the phone call telling me it was ready. I had come by car for the express purpose, so I logged out, jumped in, drove to town, and got to the shop before closing time. They charged me only 30 quid and the bike felt fine. Good job! I’m sorted again. I had felt rather bad about leaving my black bike out in the rain a few times (at the pub where I meet Jenny for Welsh practice there is no cover to be found) and now I can use this bike again to keep the strain of the black one.

On Saturday I moved all bits like bell, pannier and stand over. The bike is ready for a daily commute!

 Ready for action!

01 April 2017

Weekend runs

The weather forecast was lovely for the whole weekend. I had lots of chores to do, but I wanted to enjoy the weather too. The easy option then is to go for a run somewhere nice. You can cover quite some ground, but it doesn’t need much preparation. There was an underground trip happening as well, but these trips tend to linger on a bit, with lots of pootling and hanging around and I tend to get impatient. I had also already been. I also knew there was a risk of a curry afterwards; I am not very keen on curry, and really not keen on coming home too late. Weekends are short, and if you miss the entire Saturday then the Sunday ends up being rushed and stressed and that's not how a weekend should be! So, rather uncharacteristically, I bailed out and decided to stay above the surface. In the sun!

On Saturday I decided to spend a bit more time at a slate quarry I had before only skimmed: Alexandra Quarry. The sun was out but I was careful; I was wearing a T-shirt and three-quarter tights, and had brought a jumper. That turned out to have been superfluous. 

I ran towards the mine, and marvelled at the sunny view on a still snowy Snowdon. I then ran all around the quarry. It was a lovely day and I had a blast! I also ran through what looked like an active part of the quarry, even though it also had a clay pigeon shooting range in it, which suggests maybe the quarry isn't active anymore. At the end I ran over the hilltop. There I found a surprise; firstly, the top was conglomerate; that's not a very common rock type. And the rock around here is very old; an old conglomerate always excites me as the pebbles within the conglomerate must be a whole lot older than the entire rock. That's old! And the rock had an information board; this rock had fascinated people before, and not just any people; Darwin had been here in 1842. Only weeks before I had been talking extensively about Darwin's geological fieldwork in North Wales to the students!

Scenic ruins

Imagine living there!

Selfie with quarry (notice the matching shirt)

The conglomerates on the hilltop

View to Mynydd Mawr (left) and the Nantlle Ridge (centre); I haven't walked the latter yet! The gap in the middle is part of the quarry

I hadn't needed the jumper at all, and even regretted the T-shirt and the leggings. This was tanktop-shorts weather! But what can one do. I did a small extra stretch on easy terrain at the end of the run, after I'd dumped the jumper in the car, as I had spent quite some time marvelling and not running. 

On Sunday I decided to go again; this time I chose Porth Wen, between Amlwch and Cemaes. It was lovely! This time I was actually wearing a tanktop and shorts. I had my jumper around my waist just in case. 

I parked at a layby, ran onto a public footpath, and went east. The path vanished and I scampered a bit through fields until I turned back. I then found another footpath going west; this rather soon provided amazing views on some old brickworks. I decided to run to it. The coastal path came quite close. The access route to the actual site was a steep, very narrow, slippery path through dense vegetation. Soon I encountered a dog, who seemed a bit baffled by my obstruction. Then two humans followed. One was a woman from my Welsh class! That was nice. She is an avid rambler, and I had already seen on Facebook she had been near the quarry I had been the day before (on Mynydd Mawr, to be precise). Funny, that!

Lurking in the brickwork shadows I put on the jumper. Good I had brought it! But after I had explored the place I was getting hungry and decided to run back and go home for lunch. Which I did! It was nice to get some runs in; during previous weekends in which I would have had time the weather had generally been atrocious. That makes all paths muddy and slippery and forces you onto the road, obscures the views, and makes you less comfortable. So this was a really nice change!

The brickworks from a distance

I had learned form my mistakes; no sleeves this time!

 Scenic rock arch

 The brickworks from closer up