20 July 2017

Show my tutor the mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jac, Phil, Ben, me, Jenny and Helen

18 July 2017

Digging not as expected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 July 2017

Proper outdoor climb

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

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

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

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

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

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

 View on the actual bus stop

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

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

Donna starts on Equinox Direct

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

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

14 July 2017

Casualty Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Evening shot of the Menai Strait from the balcony

Practicing scenarios indoors

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

13 July 2017

Seler Ddu

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

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

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

The view (looking roughly east). Pic by David

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

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

Jason admires the pick-axe marks. Pic by David

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

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

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


Jason neck-deep in cold water

11 July 2017

2001: A Space Odyssey (finally)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09 July 2017

Welsh book read fast

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

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


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

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

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

07 July 2017

Family visit

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

The Netherlands seen from the train

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

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

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

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

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

Admiring Rivka, the youngest. Pic by Petra

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 July 2017

Another night at the ladder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 July 2017

Review a proposal

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

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

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