30 June 2020

Washout weekend

I had been cramming social activities into three weekends in a row, ever since it was allowed. But weekends are also for chores! And for just pottering around a bit. And making sure you're recharged for the coming week. And then there had been the week in which I lost quite some time to plumbing. So then the fourth weekend I had to tone it down. And the good news was: it was crap weather! And given that you can only be social outdoors, it was an excellent weekend to tone it down. So I did some things related to plants (I even found a rare dry period for some necessary garden work!), and did my usual (but rather wet) runs, and dull stuff like homework and grocery shopping and sorting the recycling but I also caught up on some work that needed doing. I will have to do a fair amount of that. I have 22 lectures in the first semester! I will have to think of everything in these lectures how to deliver it in some different way. We can't just record our lectures and think that's OK! It needs more. So having a bit of a work weekend while the rain hammered on the roof was pretty much the best way to deal with things I think!

I got a fair amount of things done. Even though the only thing different is my mindset, I do find weekend working different from week working. For instance; I allow myself to do the most fun things. On a weekday I don't! But weekend work is bonus so I can pick the raisins out of the porridge because regular work means you have to do the porridge, whether it has raisins or not. And I decided not to work after dinner. I had a rare evening with my book in the conservatory! That was nice...

29 June 2020

Teaching in Welsh?

I've been learning Welsh since I came to Wales. And it's not an easy language to learn! And it doesn't help that most Welsh don't speak it themselves. But I sort of learned it. And I hoped that in the end, I would use it in my job. But we don't have many Welsh students. And my colleague Dei was doing all the Welsh language teaching. But I reached the point where I figured I would never improve my Welsh if I wouldn't use it professionally! But in order to get some, I would have to take some off Dei. And Dei does have a slight penchant for wanting to do too many things himself, and if you combine that with him being in charge of School of Ocean Sciences teaching, and with a pandemic that turns all teaching upside down, it was a bit difficult to get hold of him and have that chat. And convince him to share the load. I know he is too busy so it would do him good losing some tasks!

I was a bit hesitant to bother him with this, but when my PDR was coming up I told him I was going to express my desire to teach in Welsh to the Head of School. And he was OK with it! So now we'll have to see what part I will do. And immediately I am in the same position as he is: trying to make decisions about redistribution of teaching while actually being too busy with all the other teaching. But we'll sort something out! And I look forward to using my Welsh professionally. I should be capable! They are basically making new Welsh in the Workplace qualifications to keep up with me. That sounds arrogant but it's actually true! So it should be OK. And it will be a positive feedback loop; the more I teach in Welsh the better my Welsh will be. So yes I have three entire modules to sort out as Distance Learning before the academic year starts, but I'll manage some Welsh teaching in too! I'm excited...

28 June 2020

New tradition invented

The first person I saw when it was legal to see people was Kate. And two weeks later I saw her again. And then the week after that again! And we both enjoyed that. So this may be the next tradition. And as I have Welsh, Jaco and Marjan, Welsh, and Kate and Fiona; on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday respectively, we picked the Thursday evening as a standard. A new Thursday tradition! This does mean work in the weekend but that was bound to happen anyway. You can't adapt all your teaching to a pandemic without putting some serious time in! But I'll get to the weekend without any urgent social needs so a bit of nerding should be OK. Bring it on!

Lovely views in spite of a field spread with weedkiller

27 June 2020

The joys of not going to the supermarket very often

I said it before, I eat differently now! I try new things. But not only because I want to broaden my horizon; also because I try to avoid going to the shops too often. The shop is the only place where I'm indoor with other people (except that one time I went donating blood, and the one time I went to Screwfix) and if I can keep that limited in frequency I will. So before the pandemic, I would often decide on the day what to eat, and then buy it on the way home. Now I buy in advance.

Generally, I have a plan and it works, but sometimes it doesn't quite work out. Sometimes you just end up with some ingredients that you had not intended in that configuration. And first of all; that probably would not have happened before. But also; if it did happen, I would just pop to the shop and buy things to combine with these ingredients. Now I don't! As long as I have enough veg I will make it work. So if I am left with an ingredient I just google 'recipe ingredient' and see what comes up. I have, for instance, made pearl barley with mushrooms and courgette because, well, I found myself having mushrooms and courgette. (And pearl barley, evidently.) I had intended a quiche but there wasn't enough veg for an entire quiche. A few days earlier, I had accidentally cooked more potatoes than I could eat in one go, so I had eaten them with some of the veg originally designated for the quiche the day after! So that had depleted the veg pile. But it was still enough for this recipe! And my oyster mushrooms had just produced a second harvest so that was convenient. 

I also had a variation on aubergine parmigiana because, you guessed it, I had aubergine and tomato. That’s not enough variation for a pasta or pizza, and I had no coconut milk or onion so the aubergine curry couldn’t  happen either. But the result was lovely! 

Sometimes things get a bit bizarre; at some point I had Brussels sprouts but no potatoes. So I had them with spaghetti. And that's not a recipe I will reproduce when the pandemic is over. But it did the job! It was a perfectly healthy meal and it filled me up. So altogether, I am quite liking this new style cooking. And the odd spaghetti-with-sprouts mishap makes you like the more successful adventures even more!

26 June 2020

First venture into someone else's garden

I had organised guests in my garden the very first weekend it was legal! And that meant I had guests with down jackets in there, in spite of it being June. Two weekends later I was supposed to make my debut in someone else's garden; Suzie ad invited me over for lunch. But that day, in spite of both the Met office weather app, and Rain Today stubbornly claiming rain wasn't happening, it was coming down torrentially, and we postponed. And lunch became dinner! One day, after work and then my session with my Welsh tutor (live, again! Which is better) I drove to hers. And the weather was perfect! And she has an idyllic garden.

We had a lovely vegan meal in the sun, with her three year old son confessing his love for me within minutes (!), and the cat striding around majestically, and the swallows on the power lines providing the soundtrack. Perfect! And it was really nice to see her and talk with her, and her not going pixellated or sounding like a Dalek or any of that. Or me doing that. Lovely! And we'll see. Maybe they let us do that with more than two households within a few weeks...

The cat enjoying the sun

25 June 2020

Update on plant bed with little blog attention

In this weird time in which I can't really say much about my work I can talk about the garden! When I bought the house the garden was a bit basic; several beds had nothing more than weeds in. And some had plants in I decided to get rid off. I had blogged about my succulents bed; how I had planted the first plants, and how I had been adding to it. And I had blogged about the big central bed and the two smallies next to it, but for some reason I had not said much about the one that initially had a big rose bush in, and lots of poppies. I had taken the rose bush out when my mum was visiting, and I had planted a walnut tree. And then when I had got rid of the poppies, which I hadn't mentioned (must have been a time with a lot going on) I had to plant something else.

I looked it up. These plants had remained unmentioned too! And it started with big-ish plants in the back and the middle (you can see them in the background on the pic in this post; still looks a bit empty!). And then later I put some ground-coveting plants around these bigger ones (another post with a pic in which the background does show this here). And I hoped all would grow and turn it into a full bed, and not an empty bed with some isolated plants. That had already happened with the succulent bed, and also with the two small beds. The big central bed still has a way to go. But with this bed it has come a long way too! And I thought that was worth mentioning. I really like that about my blog; I can look back at how things were before, and compare. And my garden has come a long way! And this bed is clearly very far from the Chelsea Flower Show, but it is clearly a bed now with considerable ground coverage, and that's great!

24 June 2020

Much work but little blogging

The new academic year will be with us in a few months. And everything will be different! And that will be a lot of work to sort out. I am now trying to reorganise one of my biggest modules. I have to change the timetable, make online tutorials as I can't do lectures, and liaise with all the other people teaching on my module to see if and how they can adapt their teaching to the new reality. I will soon present a proposed set-up to my colleagues. But we haven't even had the big staff meeting about this yet, so everything is preliminary. And given how unclear everything still is I can't really say much about this work yet. By the time we have made hard decisions and the students have been informed I can say a bit more! But for now I will have to shroud myself in general terms. Watch this space!

23 June 2020

First home-grown veg on the plate

When you start growing vegetables you hope to eat them too some day! In the case of some vegetables, that can take a while. My courgette plants have only just starting to flower. But some things go faster! My modest spinach crop did enrich a few cheese sandwiches. The plants have gone into bloom now and that means they don't have much energy left for making leaves, but another sandwich should be possible.

I also couldn't resist eating a carrot when I planted the first ones outside. It was still quite young and small but it was tasty! And that was already as much as the entire crop of 2018. More of that to follow.

I announced the first peas a while ago already. By now I have had two pea-enhanced main meals! Not all pods are ripe at the same time, so even though I think all my pea plants together could yield a full pea meal, they could only do that if I stored the first ripe pods until the last ones were ripe too. And I don't want to. So I ate the fist partial harvest as an addition to a bean-containing curry I ate. And the second batch to boost a meal of broad beans I had bought on my parking lot round. It's nice to eat veg that was still on the plant minutes before! I look forward to more harvest. There'll at least be a third pea round. And what would be next? It could be the cabbage! Or maybe the chard... watch this space.

22 June 2020

Project toilet: the rebuild

My repair-the-toilet project wasn't going to be a quick thing. Removing the cistern had been a nightmare with all the metalwork rusted beyond recognition! But when I had the cistern, and all that came with it, completely dismantled it was time to see if I could rebuild it all. But the first thing I did was paint the wall behind the cistern; the painter hadn't been able to reach and this was my chance. But that was a doddle.

Now for the actual issue: the toilet flush. I was religiously following the instructions. They were clearly meant to be universal; all was in pictures! No verbal explanation. I prefer the combination but hey ho. 

I started with the fill valve! That was easily screwed into position. Then the actual flush. No issues there either. And the set came with its own plastic bolts and nuts to put the cistern back. But then the instructions said that I should adjust the settings on both fill and flush. What? They were in position! How could I adjust them if I could barely reach them? How big do they think a cistern is? So I dismantled the whole thing again. I made a bit of a guess at how high I wanted the water level to get. Not too high! No need to use more drinking water than necessary. The flush didn't want to collaborate. I left it at factory settings.

So how to adjust these...

I put it all back and tried it. And it wasn't OK! The cistern slowly drained into the pan when it shouldn't. Annoying! This mechanism was brand new. It should just work! Some Googling suggested this is the sort of thing that can happen when the washer is old (it wasn't), the cradle it fits into is dirty (it wasn't), or when the cistern fills too fast (it did it too with the water disconnected so it wasn't). Hm! I posted a question on a plumbing forum. How to sort this? I really don't want to have a leaky toilet. Drinking water is a precious resource! Not to just be lost into the toilet pan.

I figured the plunger didn't come all the way down. Would it be too light? It's only gravity that lowers it! And it's all flimsy plastic. So I figured I'd try to weigh it down. And an easy way of doing that would be wrap some soldering tin around the shaft. So I did! And it didn't work. But I really couldn't find another possible reason why it wouldn't work. So I just added a second loop of tin. And put everything back in place. And it seemed to have done the trick. I did a few tests; put water in the cistern, make a pencil mark at the water level, leave it for hours and see if the level had changed. When all tests were OK I put the lid back on. I'm still not convinced I quite understand what the problem was and whether I've solved it! Was it really a weight issue? Did I accidentally tweak something else which solved it, and is the tin strictly decorative? Oh well. I was quite fed up with not having a traditionally functional loo, and the bathroom being strewn with tools, and having to spend time on this. So I decided to leave it as is. If something goes wrong again I can revisit this issue. For now, taking the cistern off will be a doddle, and I now know more about this loo than I ever expected!

Soldering tin: the solution?

New mechanism in place

Looks all sophisticated again

21 June 2020

Stomping a weekend full of engagements again

I was glad lockdown rules were released and I could see people again! And I immediately did. And the second weekend, I did again. And then I thought I needed a quieter weekend. But then I contacted people anyway! And on the Saturday, I first went for a walk with Fiona, and then another one with Kate (not Bob). In different times we would probably have just gone for a walk with the three of us. But now we can't!

I hadn't seen Fiona in real life since lockdown. That had been a while! And seeing each other on a screen is just not the same. We would do the southernmost walk possible in the area: down Lon Las Ogwen, which is my running route, but then crossing the valley and walking up the hill on the other side on the diagonal path that goes there. I had never walked that! I had seen it so often. And it course it gave lovely views over the valley.

An amazing roche moutonnée in the middle of the valley

Me on the roche moutonnée; pic by Fiona

Fiona with the top of the valley as backdrop

We were chased by a cloud for a fair while. The forecast had been quite sunny but reality was different! It chased us from the path across the valley all the way to fairly close to the village. But then it vanished. So we could sit in the sun for some coffee quaffing. That was nice. We pondered a bit what times would be like after the pandemic.

The diagonal path up to Cefn yr Orsedd on the eastern side of the valley
When I got home I quickly took my shoes off. I had another walk to do! My feet needed a break. And my stomach needed buckets of tea. So I sorted that.

When Kate arrived she wondered if we could have a cup of tea in the garden first! Of course we could. I was unusually tepid in my tea intake due to my preparations, but it was nice to just sit there and enjoy scenery and company. But then we went anyway! It was already 4PM so the walk would be short. I figured we could walk out of the village the Gerlan way, then head towards Gyrn Wigau, turn left at the sheep fold, cross the valley, go through Bwlch ym Mhwll Le, and walk back home past Rachub. It was a nice walk! It got quite windy but that's better than sticky and hot. Kate hadn't explored that much of the Carneddau, while she lives in Menai Bridge which I had explored for the four years I lived there, so this works well! We'll do this more often...

With Kate, and the valley of Afon Caseg in the background

20 June 2020

Toilet project: the dismantling

When you buy a house it tends to have a loo in it. And do you necessarily know much about  it? No, not really. I sure didn't. It worked; no further questions. But it developed a habit of having water run down when it shouldn't. And that was easily remediated by a second push of the button. Until it wasn't. And then it was time to have a look at the mechanism.

I had sorted a loo before! When I lived in Plymouth. I had managed to make that a success. Some of that must have been due to that the metalwork holding it all together wasn't all rusty; I don't mention any difficulty with rust when getting the cistern off. And some of that success doesn't help here as the issue was something entirely different. But here we go again!

I took the lid off. I didn't know much about what I saw. But it did look a bit old! Probably best to see if I could just replace the whole mechanism, as repairing it might be a bit futile. I am not good at it, and would there be spare parts out there for such outdated equipment? So I googled a bit and found that Screwfix sold these mechanisms. And I found one that I thought would fit.

What I found when I took the lid off

Going to pick it up from the shop was weird. Outside the entrance was a gazebo with a bloke with a two-way radio. He let people in if someone else came out! They had two tills open. This allowed for plenty of distancing.

Then the real work could start. I had noticed the cistern was fixed with very, very rusty screws! This would get interesting.

After some trying I figured I would get the cistern off if I would manage to get one of the top screws to reveal enough profile again to accept a screwdriver, and if I sawed off one of the bolts at the bottom. The other two seemed OK. And it worked! A gimlet scraped enough rust out of the rusty screw for my screwdriver to get a grip. And my metal saw sorted the bolt. Some pliers allowed me to take the water supply off; this had been tightened beyond being able to do this by hand. So that was one item off: the refill mechanism.

Now I needed to get the actual flush off. That wasn't straightforward either! It's screwed on with a big plastic nut-like thing; much bigger than any wrench I have. I tried a glue clamp but that didn't work. In the end I managed to improvise a sort of chain wrench with ducttape and a hammer. Did the job!

Cistern gone

Get the flush off with a smart trick!

I also found out the bottom bolts keeping the cistern in place had not only had nuts below the pan, but also between cistern and pan. And these were rusted in position too, of course! Would I manage to sort that with penetration oil and force? I could use spanners on the nuts, but on the other side I could only try to steady the bolts with a screwdriver. And you can imagine how easy that is after (probably) decades of rusting. So in the end both bolts got sawn. 

It is supposed to be a doddle to install the new mechanism! Removing rusty things, however, is a big challenge. I was glad when that was done. Would things get easy then? Stay tuned...

19 June 2020

Looks like a bumper apple crop is on its way

I have lived in my house for two summers now. The first one, I ate apples from my garden for weeks. The second one, I think the entire tree only yielded some 13 apples or so. These were gone soon! And I started to suspect the tree does bumper years and fallow years. And this year I could add a data point to the so far rather limited set! And it looks like my working hypothesis for now is being supported. That tree is full! I am looking forward to eating apples from my own garden again...
Tree full of growing apples

18 June 2020

Lockdown and family

I have mentioned before that I am almost perfectly situated to sit out lockdown. My house, garden and neighbourhood are ideal. But one thing isn't, and that is my family in other countries! I can't travel and see them. We normally have a family meeting in spring; this year it had to be cancelled. My Finnish sister loves Wales but can't travel in. I try to see my mum regularly, and now I can't. Even if she ends up in hospital! Especially if she ends up in hospital. And it almost happened again! The rules say, though, that 'essential travel' is allowed. And I could argue my mother is essential to me. But I live in the country with the worst COVID record in the world (for now). I can't just pop over and see her! Even if I manage to get to an airport/ferry port/international train station without being turned back. As soon as I get into the country I have to go into quarantine for two weeks. And I think that's fair! You can't let these Brits make their problem your problem. And upon coming back I'd have to do two weeks of quarantine more. And I am quite sure I am not infected; infections are pretty low anyway in my (big) county, and I am in excellent health, but international travel means having to be in shared spaces with strangers and that's the moment where you would pick up an infection like that. So for now I'll still just have to wait! And phone regularly.

I am a bit frustrated! If Johnson and his mates would have handled this situation better, like they did in, say, Finland or new Zealand, there would be so much fewer people mourning a loved one. And I would by now be able to just travel and see my mum. The UK has some 65.000 excess deaths. Finland has 0. New Zealand is Covid-free, except for some Brits. It can be done. But Johnson et al have mightily buggered this up. And we all pay.

17 June 2020

Vegetable musical chairs

I grow all my vegetables indoors first. Only when the seedlings look big and strong enough to survive outdoors do they move out! But the outside world has its challenges: slugs, cats, and possibly more but unidentified creatures. And wind and drought and hail and whatnot I suppose. My courgettes and butternut squashes were among the first to move out. But they struggled! The courgettes mainly from slugs, and the butternut squash mainly from the cats. At some point I admitted temporary defeat and moved the butternut squashes back in. Back indoors they thrived again! But I figured in the long run they were better off outside. Better changes of pollination, and more space to lay down heavy fruit. So when they looked so big the cats wouldn't bury them anymore and the slugs wouldn't manage to eat all of them anymore, I moved them out again. Just to be on the safe side, I pushed some anti-cat sticks into the soil around them. And around the same time I decided to move some of the courgettes back in. I hope they'll recover!

I had also been growing carrots indoors. And I was growing a cut-off leek bum indoors too. Jenny said slug don't eat leek so I figured it could go outdoors too. And I put three carrots who had been growing in a separate pot outside too. If they'll be doing fine the rest can follow!

I think the aubergines will have to stay indoors. And I am not too sure of the chard. I'm sure it's hardy, but the slugs might like it too much! Same for the cabbage. But there's nothing wrong with having some of the veg indoors! So for now, these will stay...

Almost dead courgette plants inside

Lots going on in the veg bed!

Recovered butternut squash plants outside; an a leek in the foreground

16 June 2020

Another social weekend

It was the second weekend of being allowed to meet people! And I didn't quite go as far all-out as in the first weekend, but I saw a fair number of people. The same ones, mostly! I did another Saturday walk with Chris, and another Sunday bike ride-plus-walk with Kate.

The weather forecast for both days was a bit iffy so no enormous walks were planned. With Chris I thought we could go to the source of the river Cegin; with Kate I would walk the Crimpiau. They're not big, but nicely in between our respective domiciles, and not very well-trodden. And beautiful! I had been twice last year, both with the climbing club and with Roelof. And I was keen to not wear myself out as much as the weekend before so a shortish walk would do me fine.

The walk with Chris went fine! No rain materialised. What did materialise was signs at the start of public footpaths, politely saying 'go away' so the source of the Cegin remained unexplored. We pretty much did the same walk as the week before. But that was OK!

Nice foxgloves on the walk with Chris

The walk with Kate went well too. Some rain did materialise but that didn't spoil the fun. There was nobody around and the views were great! And I didn't wear myself out, as I felt OK to go for a run after I got home. I hadn't run the day before; I had actually worn myself out during the Chris walk (not sure how, but I had been awake in the middle of the night and that may have had something to do with it) and had ended up with a clanging headache.

On my way to the meeting point

View on Llyn Crafnant

Llynau Mymbyr in the rain
As a bonus, when I was making my way back along the old road from Ogwen Cottage, I suddenly heard my name, and Martin appeared from behind. He had been out on his bike too, had stopped for a drink, seen me bike past, and had decided to see if he could overtake me. And he could! So together we biked back to Bethesda. So I almost had the full score of people from the previous weekend! Very nice. Only days later we would get another lockdown review; I don't expect much to change, but as things are I am clearly managing to keep myself socially occupied!

15 June 2020


When I have an assignment, I tend to have that in the form of a Word document I put online. That means I'm still living in the previous century! It's time I move on. And one of the things I'll need to learn is making my documents both accessible on multiple devices (phones are important!), and interactive. So I had to learn Sway. It comes with the whole Microsoft Office package so it makes sense to use it. We are using that stuff more and more! Mail, OneDrive, Forms, Teams...

The software may be standard, but pretty much everything you do for the first time is difficult. So I was wrestling with it! Made slow progress. But once I have mastered it I'm sure it will be as easy as all that other software. And it'll make my documents better. Yes I know that's a normative comment. But I believe it to be true!

14 June 2020

Back to Bangor

You must have noticed, we can meet people again! And not only friends but also people we have a more professional relationship with. Such as Welsh tutors. I had seen Jenny only on a screen since early March. We're not really screen people! And she has to go to the main campus from time to time. So I figured we could meet in person. I could just bike to Bangor (skipping my run as you can't keep pouring time into exercise) and chat with her on the grass somewhere. And she offered me leek! She is a deft grower of vegetables and she knows I'm only a beginner. I've had beans from her before! And a leek, which so far I have been unable to grow, would be the cherry on the cake. So we organised it.

On the actual day I was looking a bit skeptically at the weather. It was gusty! And at times very wet. The wet is OK but the wind is a bit of an issue. If you're scooting along on a road bike you don't want strong gusts to come from the side and almost topple you over. But I chanced it! It was the first time since lockdown that my road bike came out. Good to give that thing a spin again! 

It was a bit on the edge; especially right beside the sea I was uncomfortable. But I got there, on time, and Jenny was already waiting. We made sure to sit somewhere sheltered (we found a flight of stairs that did the job) and had our first real meeting in yonks! And she tried a quiz on me she had made for the next day. I didn't do too well.

She had forgot the leek! Oh well. Maybe we can meet in person next week again. We'll see!

Blast from the past; my road bike leaning against the Main Arts building

13 June 2020

Black lives, also in science

A man was murdered in cold blood. The world erupted in protest. And rightly so! Calmly protesting or taking the knee or any of that had clearly not helped much. But the world notices mass protests and arson and all of that. Does that mean I condone arson? Well no, but it did its job! People started paying attention.

Then in Bristol, people threw a statue into the harbour. Good stuff! The mayor was on the radio; he agreed it shouldn't have been there, but he also said the council had bigger problems than a slave-trader-shaped lump of metal on a plinth. I am sure it does. But the rioters solved that problem. I don't think they presented the council with a bill! And what about the slippery slope issue? Could you now get people tearing all street furniture down they don't like? There can't be a statue in the country that nobody at all objects to. But I think that's unreasonable; people did this after events that really screamed for a response. I don't think there is a risk to, say, Gandhi, Morecambe, or the Marquess of Anglesey, just to name some statues. People need to be really worked up to do this sort of thing!

It's not good enough to say 'this is our history and you can't touch it'. Representation matters! It does on plinths. And it does everywhere else. And it does in science. And the situation is not good. Natural Science is such a lily-white business. A lily-white male straight cis-gender able-bodied business. Take the School of Ocean Sciences. If you look at the staff you notice the vast number of pale faces. All our eight professors are straight white males. We can't even get lily-white women in these ranks! And these form roughly 45% of the population, and have white privilege. Try to get in there if you are, for instance, black.

If you address issues of representation you often get told (guess by who) that this is a pipeline issue. Look at that much more diverse student population; surely, you give them 20 years, and le voila they have percolated up and our entire staff will represent society as it was 20 years ago! But that is something only people with a healthy disregard for evidence say. I was told in 1993 that it was a pipeline issue. Surely things would be better in 20 years! And I'm writing this 27 years later and look where it got us.

So what about that student population? It is much more diverse than we staff are! But the thing is that if you see some non-white faces in your lecture room, there is a big chance they are exchange students. They come to Bangor for a year and then leave again. So they are not likely to end up in our staff!

So what do we need to do? Well, if only I knew! Our marketing efforts are mainly directed at the secondary schools from which we have traditionally got the most students. Makes sense! But should we make a concerted effort to go to schools from which we don't tend to recruit? Schools with a different demographic? It might be a start! And I know that a more diverse student population doesn't automatically lead to more diverse senior staff; far from it, but without a more diverse student population it certainly won't happen.

Physically going to schools is not a thing of these times, of course. We need to find different ways now. One of my colleagues, the only non-white member of staff, made an effort to address this. And of course it was a really small step! But any step is progress. She addressed the issue directly in a little YouTube video, also placed on the School of Ocean Sciences Facebook page. I hope this will snowball! Representation matters. And the ocean matters. And bringing them together matters too.

12 June 2020

Long day out: Moel Siabod with Kate

The rules are not so strict anymore; we can go for a walk with another person. But you can't drive somewhere to meet them. We can drive a bit but it's specified we shouldn't drive to the edge of our 'local area' (so that's 5 miles) and then walk further than that. But we can bike pretty far nowadays! And you can bike somewhere and then walk from there. So as Kate lives 20 miles away (give or take) I can't visit her. Or drive 10 miles to somewhere in between and meet her there. But I can bike there! It's weird that cars are now only for stretches shorter than five miles, unless of course you use them for things such as commuting to a hospital. And bikes are fore everything further. But if that's what it takes! So in between where we live is roughly Capel Curig. And that's about an hour on bike. So when we could again, we decided to meet there and go for a walk from there.

I parked my bike at Pont Gyfyng; the weather was fine so we would go to the summit of Moel Siabod. I had done that with my sister the year before! And there was nobody else to be seen. Not that Siabod is such a crowd magnet but now it was really calm. The parking lots nearby have been coned off so only nutters on bikes go there! And people with very snazzy parking skills.

When we got to the quarry on the flank we saw the water was very low. Really really low! Kate took it upon herself to triangulate the drop and calculate how much water it must have lost! A lot.

From there we went on. We ended up in the cloud close to the summit. And we had lunch there. It had been so hot but there we were, in long trousers and jackets, in the fog! But better than scorching heat I suppose. And while we ate it cleared up and we walked back in sunshine. And I biked back in a T-shirt and shorts!

It was good to be able to go for a walk again, a fair way from home and with a friend! And it's a bit of a faff you need to commute for an hour but so be it; it's very green. And if everybody biked to their Snowdonia destinations that would be great!

The quarry with its low water level
On the flank

Into the cloud!

View from the bridge once back

09 June 2020

First dinner guests!

We can meet people socially in their gardens! Or our gardens. So as soon as that was legal I was keen to put that into practice. I invited my colleague up on the hill over! He and his wife had been among the first to inaugurate my presentable house. They live well within the 5 mile limit. And they hadn't seen my garden yet. Nor have I seen theirs! I only go there in winter. But they were a bit starved of human contact too so they were keen to oblige!

The weather had been scorching for quite a while, but it was going to turn. Oh dear. But when the weekend approached it looked like at least it would be dry. And that's the important bit! On the actual day Martin texted; the Sunday actually looked better, weather-wise. Did I want to swap? But I didn't; that day I would be on quite a day out and I didn't want to have to stress about being back on time. A pity though, that we missed the sunshine!

Given the forecast I had decided to cook warming food. I had chosen my signature sauerkraut dish with halloumi, and a side salad made of grilled fruit with cherry tomatoes, onion and balsamic vinegar. Yes that sounds daft but I think it worked!

I made sure to be near a window at the time of them being due. I couldn't let them into my house so I had to be ready to jump out and lead them into the garden! I had set up there, with the garden table for them and a side table for me. We had to keep 2m distance and my table is only just over 1m diameter!

I soon went to get the dinner. As we are not allowed into other people's houses, they would break the law if they would go to the loo in my place. And I'm not sure if they would be comfortable crouching behind a shrub. I most certainly wasn't comfortable suggesting it. Most people are a bit too civilised for that! And Martin popped the wine.

It was good to catch up! We discussed typical lockdown topics, such as what interesting things we had seen in other people's houses on video calls, how we had managed to get our dose of human contact, how we saw returning to the office, what sort of exercise or food growing or suchlike we had been doing. And some scary collarbone stories, due to Martin's adventures on his mountain bike!

The food went down well and they had brought a lovely dessert. They had even brought four, so I had one for the next day too! But then it was time to go home; it was getting a bit chilly and sooner or later the loo issue would raise its head. But my garden had been inaugurated as a late lockdown social venue again and I had thoroughly enjoyed it!

University prep

I had been asked to help write a document about the underpinning of the switch to a lot of online learning in theory. And I worked hard at it! And the more I worked on it the more interesting it became. At some point you start finding your way in the literature. And then there is always more to find! But at some point the deadline happens and you stop. Some of the things I found I didn't expect. For instance, I assumed that people who are very confident with technology do better when teaching goes online. Especially if they have access to good hardware. But it wasn't that simple! Good, in a way; we want those with the best academic skills to do best; not the ones with the best laptop.

I worked on it until Thursday afternoon; then I sent it to the CELT lady. She managed to make all documents we had sent her into one big document. We proof-read it that very night! And the day after, she presented it to the lady in senior management. And it turned out she was happy with it! Time well spent.

I suppose that document will make its way through the entire university soon. A big responsibility! And then, of course, comes the REAL big job: getting ready for term...

08 June 2020

Tradition reinstated

The last thing I did when it was still allowed to meet people was walk with Chris. And when it became allowed again it was almost the first thing I did again! Kate had beaten him to it, but two days later we were on the move again. We met rather late; after a very hot and dry period the weather had turned, and it was raining rather heavily all morning. Not much fun walking in that! So we met at the convenient farm shop in between and started from there. This time we went west, in the direction of Rhiwlas. I had only been there once to buy a second-hand pair of waterproof trousers, which I don't seem to have blogged about. So there was terrain to be explored there!

It had been a while since I had seen him! I had once seen in in the queue of that very farm shop since strict lockdown, but that was it. But we keep digital contact. So it's not as if we had to catch up on ten weeks! There is always enough to discuss, though.

The weather was still a bit grim but it was fine for walking. And the route was lovely! Chris knew it like the back of his hand (as usual) but that didn't seem to matter. We had a nice view on Moel y Ci from the north, and the farmland was pleasant, and we even saw lots of wartime relics. The area had been used for ammunition storage! It reminded me a bit of Harrowbeer Airfield.

We didn't do a big loop; I would have dinner guests later and I needed to prepare for them. But it was good to have a nice walk again! And we'll do it again! I think this will stay legal for a while...

Platforms where storage sheds have been

Blocked blast shelter

Abandoned vehicle

07 June 2020

First post-lockdown visitor

After three blocks of lockdown, the Welsh government decided it was time to relax rules so much we could see one other household. Outside. At two meters distance. A bit restricted, but better than nothing! And soon I got a message from my underground mate Kate; she suggested she pop by. What a good idea!

She appeared at about seven. I showed her the garden! She hadn't been yet. But she had come for a walk; it was a bit of a grey day and it was best to keep moving. And we went on the direction of Moel Faban.

It was nice to catch up. I hadn't seen her since lockdown started! And a bit of pottering around Moel Faban is always nice.

I would get more visitors over the weekend. It's nice to have entered this new phase of lockdown!

The neighbour repairs my arsenal

I had had to abandon my poisoning the knotweed efforts due to my injector not working anymore! And I had not managed to find out why. I figured it was probably not very complicated but I don't have a very impressive precedent in taking things apart and then managing to put them back together again. So I thought maybe I should just ask him! I'm raising the value of his house when I'm killing knotweed. I'm sure he appreciates that. And he had also mentioned he had got a bit bored due to lockdown. So I asked! And he promised to have a look.

The next morning he already knocked on my door. He had fixed it! And I can't quite start injecting again; the weed needs to flower first. But then I can go on a killing spree again! Hopefully in less discomfort than last year. And the neighbour said he thought I was having success; he figured there really was less knotweed now than last year, and the year before. I hope he's right! I had thought as much myself but was wondering if this was just wishful thinking. Would I manage to sort this with my modest injector? I hope so! And I'm glad I have technical support!

06 June 2020

Pen Llithrig y Wrach

We can combine biking and walking! I had found no rule against it, and when a friend said he had phoned the police to explicitly ask, and had got the answer that it was OK, I knew what to do. Bike into the Ogwen Valley and do a walk a bit further from home! I was starting to retrace my steps in the Carneddau a bit much. And there was a hill out there that not only I had never climbed; it also had the coolest name of any of the hills around here. You guessed it; it's called Pen Llithrig y Wrach. And that means 'the Witch's Slippery Head'. Which I think is hilarious! So that's where I set out to go.

On a very sunny day I biked into the valley, and parked my bike at the start of the public footpath. I was a bit startled to find my groin felt odd! Some sort of saddle soreness I had never had before. I've had that bike since forever, but I did put a new saddle on less than two years ago. Maybe it was a move with disadvantages! But I had faith the feeling would subside soon and it did.

Park the bike at the start of the public footpath

I would first walk east a bit as the nearest hill to there was y Braich; I intended to come down there. And it took a while to traverse the valley of Afon Bedol and get to the foot of the hill, but that was OK as it was lovely. It was great walking weather: warm but not too much so, and I was in a wide plain with nobody around.

The round one is the Witch's head!

Looking back across the plain to Tryfan in the distance

Halfway up the flank of the hill I had lunch. I was hungry by then! Then I continued my way up. When I get my eyes on the cairn at the top I suddenly saw a shirtless man appear. He was a bit startled. And then I saw a lady. She wasn't wearing an over-abundance of clothes either. I decided to stop and admire Llyn Cowlyd for a while. When I had properly appreciated its beauty I continued my way. I expected to find fully clothed and slightly blushing people, but there was nobody to be seen! That was quiet a feat. It's such an open landscape. No idea where they vanished to.

Now I was on the slippery head of the witch! I took a selfie even though you can't really see a mountain on a selfie you take on its top. But it was the idea that counted. And then I headed west; I dropped down back to the river, and then up on the other side, to Pen yr Helgi Du (the head of the black hunting dog; they are good with names in this neck of the woods). On the top there I had another drink. Then I headed back down y Braich. That would be a long and rather uneventful stroll. But that's ok!

Summit selfie

Looking into the next valley along, where Llyn Llyffant is
I got back to the bike, and then just biked back. A good day out! And I could do more of that. I like having a bit of an action radius, assisted by my bike!

05 June 2020

Brief encounter with a bike computer

I was on my daily run, and was about to open one of the many gates I encounter. (I am getting very good at doing that without using my hands.) I noticed something on the floor! And it looked so specific I picked it up. It was a bike computer! Someone must have dropped it. I took it with me. And when I got home I posted on the village Facebook page. I asked if someone had last a bike computer at that location, and I made sure to not describe it. The general trick to avoid people having a punt and claiming it is theirs when it isn't! And then I figured I just wait.

Only minutes later I saw I had FB alerts. And I checked. A woman had tagged me. She had seen both my post, and a post by a man who had posted writing in the same 10 minute window as me, asking if someone had found his Cateye bike computer. Bingo! I was glad this woman had seen both posts. Although I think I would have checked the village page often enough to see it myself. But anyway; now it was time to make contact. It was indeed a Cateye so it was clearly his! He suggested he come pick it up right away. Fin with me! And minutes later he was knocking on the door.

I was a bit disappointed he had not biked! But hey ho. He had clearly already been out on the bike today. We had a small chat. He was glad to get the device back! And he said he had been biking lots since lockdown. And I could tell. But how? I hadn't met him before!

This man turned out to be a local celebrity! I had been able to tell from his profile picture. So what had he done? Well! He had got engaged in Red Nose Day. It's an institution in the UK. I hadn't heard of it before moving here! It's an annual big event (since 1985) with the goal to raise lots of money to fight child poverty, both in the UK and abroad. You get lots of celebrities do stuff, and the general public donating money. In 1986 the concept of the 'red nose day single' was also born; this was the famous collaboration of Cliff Richard with the Young Ones. I had no idea it was for charity but I loved it at the time! I was just the right age I suppose. And this format has been followed since! Unlikely musical performances, some of which lip-synced. Miles Jupp has once done a Keith Flint impersonation, for instance. And another famous performance was Peter Kay lip-syncing to 'the way to Amarillo', on a treadmill, and in front of a green screen, in 2005.

This year, a new version would be released. They used the original footage of Peter Kay but they would put different images in the background. And the public was asked to send in material. And the focus would be, of course, on essential workers like NHS workers and rubbish collectors. But anyone could send something in. And the man with the loose bike computer had been channeling Peter Kay himself (with wicked dance moves!) in nearby town Tregarth. His version had not made it to the official video, unfortunately! But he'd given it a try, with panache. And I had seen it, and recognised him. But he had had a haircut (a DIY one, one presumes) and he was noticeably sleeker. All that biking has had effect! And now, thanks to social media, he had his bike computer back mere hours after losing it. And now he can keep biking, and gather data about it (I understand! I am a geek myself), and become the fastest biker in Tregarth! I like it when things come together...

04 June 2020

More food experimenting

This is a good time to experiment with food. I have started growing the stuff, and I try to broaden my horizons a bit. I have a bit of a penchant for cooking the same recipes over and over again. That's just the easiest! But now that I am home every dinner time I can try some other things. And then when lockdown ends, I will have more recipes in my repertoire. Thing I haven't done before don't have to cost more time!

One thing I tried was making my own pie crust. I like making quiches and such! And I tend to buy ready-made pie crust dough. But that's always done with white flour, and has unnecessary packaging, and is probably more expensive than doing it yourself. So I Googled a recipe and gave it a go.

For shortcrust dough you need cold butter and cold water, so you need prep time. I put the needed amount of butter int he freezer the day before. And I put a little bowl of water in there too. I don't think I have ice cube shapes!

The day I made the dough I had to first thaw out the bowl so the ice let go. Then I had to smash the ice to make it manageable by the bread machine. Otherwise it was a doddle. Plonk everything in the machine and press 'start!

It worked out, I made a quiche! And it fed me for five days. I liked it! The crust was a bit sloppier than intended but maybe I should have baked it without filling first and I couldn't be asked. Maybe it was a bit thin. But it tasted good and I had made it myself! And because a bread machine can't handle small amounts I now have half the dough waiting in the freezer and can make another quiche with that soon. Nice!

Another thing I did was try to grow mushrooms. That was a mixed bag. I had decided to first try the standard ones, aka button or champignon mushrooms, but that failed. No mushroom to be seen! But in the meantime, the oyster mushrooms started growing without being prompted. I clearly need some practice with this! But I got me soem mushrooms; what to do with them? Well: eat green Thai curry! Or the westernised version. I don't think an actual Thai would recognise the stuff you can buy in the village shop as Thai curry paste, but that doesn't matter. If it makes a good meal I'm happy! And what was my verdict? Certainly a good meal! And very quick and easy. And the pot of paste gets me some eight meals so I'm not done with it yet...

Oyster mushrooms!

Thai green curry with said mushrooms. Nice!

02 June 2020

Project music

On Friday I have dinner with Fiona and Kate. And that's lovely! But Fiona wasn't happy with just eating. She wanted added value. And came up with a project. We would each send each other links to three tracks, and listen to the others' tracks before the dinner. Just tracks that mean something to us for some reason. And then we discuss them over dinner. It's quite nice! I don't tend to struggle too much thinking of music to send. I just send the soundtrack of my life in small bits. I have sent music by Tori Amos, 16 Horsepower, The Cure, Sinead O'Connor, New Model Army, Joe Jackson, the Nits, Madrugada and Elvis Costello so far. Enough to still choose from! I haven't even touched the Sisters of Mercy yet, or Placebo, just to name a few. And yes my music isn't very recent. So be it!

Tori Amos; pic by Krissikes

And the others? Most of it is music I didn't know at all, or only barely. I have been listening to Jethro Tull, Tiesto, Andy Partridge, Fleetwood Mac, Frazier Chorus; whatnot! Some music I already know well: Beethoven, Kirsty MacColl, Queen. I'm learning stuff! Some of it I will only listen to for the occasion; some I may listen to more. And I'm broadening my horizon. And sometimes the music sets you on a track! For instance, the Kirsty MacColl track got me wondering about her and finding out more about her life. And I got a bit sidetracked by Billy Bragg as the song had been 'A New England', which he had written. And the Andy Partridge track 'Prince of Orange' reminded me (through the piano work) of 'Sketches of Spain' by the Nits. And that made me wonder if that song had any musical link with the miles Davis album of the same name. I didn't expect so but one can't be sure! So I listened to that too. (And no it doesn't, as far as I can tell.)

It doesn't always work! Kate and I still work full-time so sometimes this extra task can be a bit much. One time she submitted hers late because she had been busy, and then I was too busy to listen to them before the dinner. Oh well! Music doesn't go off. I could listen to it later!

Will we stick with this? I don't know! I think it's the only form of culture of which you could get a reasonable weekly dose. You can't do this with books or films or plays. I can't read three books in a week! Or watch three films. Forget about the plays. And the chances I have read/seen other people's choices are very slim. And the other way around too! My film knowledge is almost entirely based on my time in Amsterdam, and the Tromsø International Film Festival. A bit of a random selection. And many of the books I have read and was impressed by were in Dutch or Welsh or maybe even Norwegian. So that doesn't help!

And in the meantime? I haven't found a new favourite band yet but who knows what will still happen!

Getting the entire university ready for next year

One Tuesday morning I didn't expect anything when an email pinged into my mailbox. It was from a lady who is involved in CELT, the University's teaching team. Celt stands for Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching. She didn't say what it was about but she wanted a chat. And later that day we had that chat.

So what was going on? Well, we will have to do a lot of online teaching, and she was asked to put a document together about what the literature said about how to go about it. And she couldn't really do that alone. So I was one of the people she asked for help! She had made a list of topics and asked us which we wanted to take on. I opted for 'flexibility and inclusivity'. It's important and interesting!

That also immediately gave me a big job to do. I've been browsing through geological literature for decades and I know my way. But I'm not anywhere that at home in pedagogical literature! But I have to dive in head first and deliver. That chat did get me working long evenings. It was bound to happen some moment! And I don't think this will end soon. The marking is pretty much done now. The exam board meetings are imminent. And with that out of the way we need to get our curriculum ready! Incorporate that knowledge that we have gathered. We have to make the shift a lot quicker than ever anticipated; let's make sure we use the knowledge gathered by others as well as we can!

01 June 2020

Welsh exam at home

What the students had to do, I had to do! I keep myself in permanent education through Welsh. And that involves exams. And the qualification I was going up for, Welsh in the Workplace 7, included one. I couldn't sit it on campus, but the university was OK for me to sit it at home. I had already had (and recorded) several conversations, and answered questions to my presentation. Now it was time for the written part. And after that, only one conversation was still to come. And then I could find out if I'd passed!

The procedure was: I would be ready at home, and get sent a document at 10AM, with the tasks. I could use dictionaries and the online language checker and whatnot. I would have access to that if I would be using Welsh in the actual workplace! So that was OK. And then at 11:30 I had to send it back.

The written exam had four parts: write an email to thank a colleague about what they had done for an Open Day, translate an announcement about a seminar series into Welsh, respond to an official letter, and correct a text with a given number of mistakes in. The email was easy as I do that sort of stuff regularly; the official letter was sort of OK, the announcement was a bit hard not to translate word for word (which is not the intention) because the sentences given would have the same structure in Welsh unless you would really change them, and I always find finding the mistakes difficult. We'll see how I've done!