25 March 2023

Between mine and steep street

One week to the race! The steepest street in the world race was the highlight of my racing season. With its emphasis on running up a steep hill it was right up my street. And having finished as third woman the year before, I was keen to see if I could at all repeat that this year. Last year, I had been doing hill reps to prepare myself. Admittedly, I took it a bit too far, and ended up with an ankle injury. But this year everything was quite different! I prepared for the race by desperately trying to shake off a cold acquired in a mine. I was full of snot, and my voice was faltering. I stayed at home for two days (no need to spread this cold) and didn't do exercise at all. I just went to bed early and hoped to get better. Not a great run-up! But what can you do. That will teach me making stupid decisions underground. There's only one way to find out what affect this sub-ideal preparation will have on my performance on the day!

24 March 2023

Kit replacement

Camping kit doesn’t last forever! I hadn’t needed any big replacements recently, but I knew my sleeping bag liner was at the end of its life, and an increasingly high number of my tent pegs were banana-shaped, if not Zorro-esque. And on the last night in Yorkshire I had broken my trusted spork. So I know I needed to get myself to an outdoor shop at some point.

When I came out of a mine with Sharon and Lydia, the latter asked me if I was okay to swing by an outdoor shop on the way home. And I certainly was! And they did have sleeping bag liners, tent pegs and sporks. Of course they did. So that came together quite nicely! I am ready for the new camping season!


23 March 2023

Very vertical mine trip

After a successful trip with Sharon in a mine in the east, and with Lydia and Toby in a mine in the south, there was enthusiasm for more. And it came together well. Lydia, Sharon and I were all available one Sunday, Lydia was keen on doing a very vertical trip near Llanberis, and Sharon has enough equipment to make the trip happen. Initially, Kate would join too, but something got in the way. Miles wasn't available.

I had been a bit worried about my throat for a while. It never really felt good! It didn't feel like an oncoming cold or tonsillitis or anything, but I didn't feel good either. And on that morning, it felt marginally worse than before. I would have to be careful!

I gathered my stuff and picked up Lydia from Bangor. Together we drove to Llanberis, where we met Sharon. She had cleverly put all the kit we needed in three bags, so we could share in the load. And I am a thirsty person, and during the first half of the day I am also quite a hungry person, so I also had a bag with supplies. Luckily, I have a rather big bag, so I could put my share of the equipment and all my food (and Lydia’s) and drink in that bag. It was quite heavy, but it wasn't far to the entrance!

View from the entrance 

We got in, and quickly found the first pitch. Sharon rigged it like the wind. It was a bit wet, but not too bad. And we got to the second pitch pretty much immediately. At the bottom of that there was a bit of horizontal exploration. It’s a pretty mine! And a metal mine, so nice staining here and there. 

What I saw near the bottom of the second pitch 

What they saw (pic by Sharon)

The next pitch also lead to a level where some exploration was possible. And I was considering my options! The next pitch was allegedly quite wet, and I was feeling my throat. I didn’t think getting soaking wet and cold would improve it. I did discuss this. Sharon went down first. She said it was just like rain. Not too bad. 

Lovely bucket

Lydia admiring some blue staining

Sharon looking at a hole in the floor

Lydia in a level with green staining on the floor

Lydia went second. And then I followed. It was very wet! And when I touched down there was nowhere we wanted to go. The level had quite high water. We didn’t fancy going into it. But that meant we were all three huddling on a very rainy square meter. Why not shout up coming down wasn’t worth it? Coming up would be wetter. 

Lydia went up first. I was wearing a thicker furry suit! It felt like it took her an hour. Then I went up. It was so wet! And a 34m pitch is hard work on the best of days. At the top I knew my voice had gone. I asked Lydia to shout “rope free” for me. And told her to move up the next pitch. That would speed things up! 

We made our way out. One pitch was a pain as I was the first up. The rope didn’t want to feed through my chest jammer! And then you have to manually pull it through. That’s really hard work. But that situation sorted itself. I wanted to be in between the others; then they could do the comms. They had voices! And a mine with falling water is a noisy environment. The message only partially came through, though; Lydia shouted at me several times from a distance to ask me how I was doing. She had good intentions, but was clearly not thinking that one through. 

When we got to the top and Sharon was de-rigging I figured I’d just go back to the car. I had by far the heaviest bag anyway! They could carry the rest. And when I got out the wind had picked up. I was soaked to the bone so I was feeling the cold! I was so glad to be able to slip into something dry. 

Soon the others appeared too, and we all changed into something dry. Me in silence, obviously. This was not how I had wanted the trip to end! I was seriously regretting that last pitch. But one learns. I knew I had to get home and take it very easy for the rest of the day. But it is a nice mine! Where you can have a lot more fun with ropes than in your average Welsh mine. I would like to go back there one day in a dry spell, when the pitches are not so wet, and that lower level is a bit more inviting. I could imagine the others feel similar! 

22 March 2023

Bigger game

I came home from the cinema and what did I find? A dead rat in the kitchen! I had never before seen evidence of my little not-so-brave cat handling anything that fierce. She regularly brings in mice and shrews, and very occasionally a small bird. Once she brought in a live pigeon. And that is bigger in volume. But a rat! That’s a different kettle of fish. They are much more intimidating.

The cat was nowhere to be found. Not unusual; it was the sort of time she likes being outdoors. But often, when she is outside when I get home, she soon spots my presence (the turning on of lights?) and comes bolting in. Not now! I was a bit worried.

Soon she appeared. All cheerful and hungry! Would my scaredy-cat be on a slow trajectory of becoming more assertive? Or did she just find a particularly poorly and resigned rat? Time will tell!

21 March 2023

Noise instead of dust

In Welsh class, some attention was dedicated to a Welsh film that had come out: Y Sŵn, or the noise. It sounded interesting. I had also seen in an email that there was a public lecture coming up. It was about the struggle for compensation of quarry workers with silicosis. The title explicitly involved the word ‘llwch’, or dust. And then I had a look. They were at the same time! Now I would have to choose.

I chose the lecture. That would be a one-off. There might be another opportunity to see the film! I could potentially see it on the Saturday night. So after work I ate my sandwiches and went to the building where the lecture would be. It was closed! And there was no one to be seen. Was something wrong? And then two other ladies appeared, with the same mission. Then I checked the email again and realised the lecture was actually a week later. But that decided it; I would just go to the film instead. That started half an hour later.

The film was about an event that is very famous in Wales, but that I had never heard of before coming here and learning about Welsh history. In Wales there was a noteworthy movement fighting for the Welsh language and more autonomy for Wales. One of the important people in this movement was Gwynfor Evans; for a long time the leader of the Welsh National party, and the first MP of that party in Westminster. The movement had had a boost in reaction to the flooding of the Tryweryn valley. And it had been campaigning for a Welsh language television channel. The government had promised that that would come, but then in 1979 it change its mind. And especially the Society for the Welsh language took exception to that.

In an attempt to change the government mind back, there were rallies and protests and delegations sent to Westminster and whatnot, but nothing seemed to help.

And then Gwynfor Evans made a drastic decision. He announced that he would go on hunger strike if the government wouldn't change its mind back, and stay on hunger strike until they would. And if they wouldn't, well, that would be the end.

Long story short; it worked, and the Welsh channel is still going strong. 

So what was the film like? I enjoyed it! The story had got a bit festooned with unlikely details for dramatic and/or comedic effect, but I didn’t mind that too much. They also didn't shy away from having archive footage mixed in with the re-imagining with actors. And I have no idea how close they stayed to the actual Gwynfor Evans, they did give a plausible rendition. And it increased my respect for the man. What a dedication to a cause that was so close to hopeless! I'm glad I went. I don't think I can make the dusty talk next week, but this way at least I've got some Welsh culture in!

20 March 2023

Climate change teaching done

One week to the Easter break! It always feels like such an important milestone in the academic year. And this year, a module that kept me especially busy was our climate change module. The year before I had completely changed what I teach, so this year I had to improve on that. I never get things quite right the first year around. And I am sure next year I will still be tweaking. But on the Friday of the second last week before the Easter break I had my last lecture. So now I can go into the last week with student contacts with that off my plate. And it feels good.

I am still teaching on my rather wide-ranging Earth, Climate and Evolution module. And there also is teaching in the tutorial module, and the fieldwork module in that week. But that will probably all stuff that I can prepare for without haste. Great! And of course the Easter break is not really a break; for instance, my big job will be to prepare for the dissertation presentations conference. But I can work on that with less interruption than normal!

18 March 2023

Main University building has a courtyard again

One of these days, I was teaching in the Main Arts building. I walked past the courtyard to get to an entrance. This had been fenced off for months! There had been massive work going on there. And suddenly, the fencing was gone. I didn't expect that!

New! get an idea of what it was like in this post

I know I don't always give my undivided attention to communications from the University, but I had expected there would be so much hoo-ha about the courtyard being accessible again I wouldn't have managed to escape the news. I was clearly wrong!

It's only a minor thing for me as I'm not in that building particularly often, but I was glad to see the work finished. I think it looks good! Even though I missed the nice greenness of the lawns that were there before. Maybe this was a climate adaptation measure? It is possible that in heat waves, the grass dies, and in very wet periods, it becomes very muddy. And paving over grass exacerbates flood risk, of course, but let's not go into that.

The courtyard being accessible also means the library now has disabled access. The temporary access route involved a few steps…

Later I had to visit the library and saw the place in sunlight. Even better! 

View from the library entrance 

I wonder if there will be some official opening. And if not, we will see this space undoubtedly used to its fullest effect in the summer graduation ceremonies! I'm sure it will provide a good backdrop for pictures…