26 May 2024

Garden made less embarrassing

I really needed a weekend in the garden! It had started to look like one big embarrassment. Some of that is due to it having been super busy in early spring (with my applications and suchlike), but after that I think I just had too much of a busy social life. That is a good thing! But when the days are long and there is plenty of rain, the garden will grow into a monster. And I needed to tame it.

The weekend after the race I had nothing big planned, so that was when I set to work. I had already cut the grass a while ago; that really made huge difference. I had at some point considered cutting it, but the dandelions were out, and I thought that would be cruel to pollinators. But the dandelions had had their time, and the grass had been way, way too high. So I had prioritised that. But there was so much more to do.

Some of it was to do with the raised bed in the back that I had been clearing of ivy. That is a lot of work! But I have more raised beds. The raised bed with the apple tree was okay. The raised bed with the succulents looks after itself. The two really small bed tend not to require much attention. But the other four bigger ones really needed work. The one that had had the walnut tree was very overgrown, mainly with grass and dandelions. The bed with the plum tree was so bad I decided to give up on it for this year. Maybe next year! The big central bed was also suffering from invasion of grass and dandelions. And it had become overcrowded. The plants I had to put in it had, of course, all been growing, and by now several plants were basically pushing each other out of the way. So I needed to make some changes there.

The big central bed: weeds and overcrowding 

That weekend I cleared almost all the ivy! And I tidied up the bed that used to have the walnut tree. The other walnut tree bed temporarily mainly has oregano, a pumpkin plant, and potato plants. That will do. And I got quite far with the big central bed. It has had an enormous amount of grass and dandelions removed, and I took out three plants for which there wasn't enough space. One is now in the position of the walnut tree, and two are in pots in front of the house. I'm not sure if that is permanent, but it will do for now.

Much more ivy removed 

The big central bed: not finished, but clearly progress! And yes, different angle, but this shows the progress better…

It's clearly not done yet, but I am happy with the progress! My garden doesn't look embarrassing anymore. And the raised bed in the back is almost ready to be taken into use. Progress!

25 May 2024

New cat enemy, old cat flap

In the night before the race I suddenly woke up with a start. I heard a blood-curling scream coming from the direction of the cat flap, and then the sound of cat coming through it at warp speed. Through both cat flaps. I ran out of bed to check if the cat was okay. Her assailant had probably gone; there was no sign of another cat anymore. But her tail was still incredibly thick.

Another thing was that she had basically taken the cat flap with her when she stormed in. The cat flap that leads outside was still fine, but the one that leads into the bedroom, which was quite old, had been knocked straight out of its hinges. She always comes through that like a bullet, but this time she must have run so fast she actually demolished it. And after the actual flap came out, I didn't take long for the whole rest of the cat flap to collapse as well.

RIP cat flap

I really hoped she would have peace now that Nemesis had moved! But there clearly sometimes still is a bully cat around. I had heard her howl at another cat before, and then I had caught a glimpse of a large black cat outside. This might have been the same one, but I have no way of verifying that. But she must have been very scared that night. Poor little cat!

The next morning I found bits of cat fur in the grass outside the cat flap. And I put "new cat flap" on my shopping list. I have another chore to do! And installing a new flap is quite achievable, but having my little cat have peace in what should be her territory seems a lot more difficult to reach…

24 May 2024

No more Study Skills Centre support in dissertation module

When I took over the dissertation module from a colleague who retired, I had a lot of work on my hands. Not only was there the usual admin of sorting out a module; it had also been decided that the students should get a statistics practical. And I do not work in a branch of science that is very heavy on statistics. So I was a bit out of my depth.

The good thing of working at a university is that if you are not knowledgeable on a certain topic, there are probably people around who are. And the university has a study skills centre. A lot of their work is dealing directly with students; if these have a question about scientific writing or maths or something like that, they can book an appointment. But they clearly also work for staff. So I got in touch with a lady called Rally, and she was going to help me.

In order to help me, she needed a lot of information, of course, so that already kicked me into higher gear. I didn't have a clear overview of all the statistics the students do; firstly, I had only just taken over the module, and secondly, keeping close tab on exactly what all the projects that are part of the module entail is hardly part of the brief. And after an overview of all the statistics the students use, she also wanted example data.

I also have made sure to always be there for the practical. She leads it, and I try to answer questions. Sometimes I pass a question onto someone else if I don't have a clue, but at least I know what's going on. And I think that is a good thing. And I was right.

Suddenly, after this year's practical, I received an email from one of Rally’s colleagues. They we were going around with the hat for a goodbye present. Rally had resigned! Oh dear! That was disconcerting. She is really lovely, and it will be a pity to not have her around anymore, but now I also was stranded with my statistics practical. Would anyone take her place? So I emailed her manager, and he said that they could no longer help me with this. I was on my own now.

I suppose I can do one of three things now. The easiest is to just bin the practical. The second easiest (if it works) is to convince one of my more statistical colleagues to step in and help. And the third is to step up my own game and do it myself.

At the next suitable occasion, I will see if there is anyone who would be willing to join me in this. It would reassure me. It would be a bit silly to bring me up to the statistics level of a particularly statistical biologist, when I will never be one. So if I could find the combination of the second and third option, that would be ideal. I have to teach statistics in Welsh anyway, so I already do more than I used to, and I had stepped up my game for my Masters project. I can keep stepping up a bit! And design the bulk of a practical. But it would be good if I would have a colleague by my side who can also deal with the more esoteric nuances. 

We have a whole array of new lecturing staff; right now even the last appointee has been announced, and will arrive in July. And I have already met two ladies who recently started, and who moved in from abroad. It's nice to see our team grow! But anyway; I'm sure some of them are quite statistically knowledgeable. And at the moment, they don't have much of a teaching load yet. I hope I can rope one of these in! But it looks like I will be doing a fair amount of statistics, in Welsh or otherwise, this summer…

23 May 2024

Stepping away from plastic tat

Some years ago, during a momentary lapse of reason, I saw one of those things that is meant for hanging small items such as socks and underpants to dry from in a shop. And I liked the concept of being able to basically group all your smalls into one unit, so I bought it. It was, of course, made of cheap plastic, and if you hang your clothes to dry, you tend to hang them in the sun, and that means photodegradation. So one after the other, the clothing pins broke, and then the whole thing collapsed into a pile of shards.

The original product, here shown on Amazon

Undignified end of a household item

As I still liked the concept, I decided I should just continue with that, but with less badly chosen materials. And I decided I could use bamboo, with wooden pegs. And bits of string. The hook and chains that it was all attached to were still functioning, so I reused these. If they give up I can just replace them with durable and biodegradable (at the same time, yes!) equivalents. I suppose I'm ready for a sustainable future with dry pants! 

Remake finished

And in action

22 May 2024


I knew that was going to be a gig in the evening. Soon after I got home from my scramble, I could hear a sound check involving bagpipes. That means the gig that night would be Skerryvore, a folk band that had been announced. I had never heard of them, but I understand they are quite big in Scotland. I thought I might pop in later on.

That afternoon I got a message from Kate. Her neighbours actually had tickets for the gig, but couldn't come! And she herself wasn't feeling hundred percent. Was I interested in the tickets? I figured they would otherwise go to waste, so I said yes. I asked Martin, Sue and Dean if they were keen on joining, but they weren't. So after I had my after dinner tea I went to have a look.

I got there just minutes before the band appeared. I had missed the support act, but I was okay with that. And they started well!

It is a big band; somewhere in the back there are a drummer, a bassist and a keyboardist; at the front in the middle is the songwriter who is also guitarist and vocalist, on the side there is a fiddler, and then there are two blokes who keep switching between accordion, whistle and bagpipes. Especially when they are both on bagpipes, it is a right racket! I enjoyed that. And so did the crowd. As It was a crowd. It looked sold out!

I quite liked how they managed to combine the standard band sound with drum, bass and guitar, and then the more folk-associated instrumentation. They blend it well!

I didn't see it all out until the end. I wanted to go to bed! I wanted a productive day the next morning. And I had already been away from the cat most of the day, of course. But it has been fun! And I wish them all the best!

21 May 2024

Bristly Ridge

Bristly Ridge got its name for a reason. It looks quite spectacular! I had noticed it before, of course; for instance, we had come past it on the New Year's Day walk with Sue and Dean. And I had seen people on the ridge. I had been keen to give it a try myself, but it looked a bit too challenging to just try that on my own. I know about all the callouts in this area; I know very well you can't not take the mountains seriously! Before you know it, Mountain Rescue has to come for you.

Then I suddenly saw a scramble on that very ridge advertised on Facebook. And it was on a day where I had nothing timetabled. So I decided I should just seize that opportunity. And I registered!

I had once done a guided scramble before; on Cneifion ArĂȘte. I wasn't sure if this would be similar. I would later find out it wasn't; that was a grade 3 scramble, when we would be doing was only a grade 1.

It wasn't an awful lot of communication about it. Not where and what time to meet, nor what to bring. I emailed the organisation to ask about this, and a man called Richard answered me and suggested he could pick me up. But I didn't get the time and place for pick up until the morning of the trip. He also asked me to fill out some health declaration. So far I wasn't very impressed with how well this thing was organised! But I showed up, health form filled out at 7AM, at the correct time and place.

A man addressed me; it was Richard. He introduced me to the man in the passenger seat: Dewi. It was foggy, and raining a bit, so the views weren't very good, but at least we would probably be okay to park at Idwal cottage. And we were! And met two other participants: Laura and Julian.

Only there did become clear to me that Dewi was going to be our guide, and Richard was going off in a different direction with a different client. Oh well! That's fine. So we set off. While walking, Dewi asked us a bit about our experience. And some generic things such as where we were from. I had the impression we were a nice group.

Starting the walk

We walked up to Llyn Bochlwydd. There we had a little break for coffee and a snack. And slowly, the weather was improving! From there, we walked up to the pass. Again we stopped for a snack. And then the real fun was going to start!

That’s where we were going!

We started walking along the wall to Sinister Gully. And then the scramble began! It was a lot of fun. And the slightly nebulous surroundings were quite atmospheric. And it never got challenging, but I could easily imagine that if you take the wrong turn it might do, and you could easily end up cragfast. Or even slip. And then you have a big problem. It would take a while for mountain rescue to get to you! So I was having a whale of a time, and glad I had a mountain guide with me. I had the impression the others felt the same way.

All three of us in the gully. Pic by Dewi

After the gully it got even scramblier. At some point I recognised the little dip in the ridge that you could see so well from a distance. That had been my inspiration to end up here myself! And we happily climbed up on the other side.

Descending into the dip. Pic by Dewi

Clambering up on the other side. Pic by Dewi

More clambering. Pic by Dewi

We basically climbed our way out of the cloud. Close to the ridge it already got quite hot. And then we reached the actual ridge! It was sunny there. We decided to walk to the Cantilever for lunch. 

I tried to charge my phone and watch with my power bank, but I had made the classic mistake of not checking whether the power bank actually was full. It was not! So that didn't work. Oh well. We had our lunch, and then we did some obligatory Cantilever pictures.

Foggy Cantilever pic by Dewi

At the ridge, looking almost due south

From there we walked on to Castell y Gwynt, and then Glyder Fawr. It was sunny and beautiful. From there we walked back to where y Gribin starts. The midges were out, so we were glad to descend into the mist again. And y Gribin isn't as spectacular as Bristly Ridge; I had quite comfortably done it on my own with a full overnight backpack on, but there was enough fun to be had. And this ridge wasn't going to be taken for granted.

On the ridge

On y Gribin

At one scrambly bit, suddenly Julian's foot slipped. He still was holding on by his arms, but I could see he was desperately trying to find a foothold again, and failing. Luckily, in the end he managed, and pulled himself up again. Phew! 

When he was on solid ground again he was smiling, but he also had a veritable egg on his right bicep. It looked like it had gone into cramp! But we could see from Julian's face that it hadn't. This was really weird. We all hoped his arm would get back to normal by itself. Julian said it hurt a bit, as he had shock-loaded the muscle, but it wasn't bad, and his arm was functioning properly. Hopefully it would be better by the end of the walk.

Dewi decided this was enough excitement, and from there picked an easier going past down. It was still beautiful! At some point we could see Llyn Bochlwyd below us. And we thought we saw Richard and his client walking down. That would be good! After all, we would be car-sharing back down.

Llyn Bochlwyd from above

By the lake we met up again, and from their own we all walked back to the car park together. I had a bit of a chat with Richard. I was totally going to keep an eye on his company! I had had a lovely time. And doing more of that sounded like a good idea.

At the youth hostel I said goodbye to Laura and Julian, and not much later I was dropped off home. What a day! I am up for more of this. I quite like the low levels of faff of a grade 1 scramble, it turns out. Grade 3 is so much handling of ropes and slings and carabiners and whatnot. And this has been the higher end of grade 1, so more exciting than the lower end, but still without ropes, and that seems to be where I am quite happy!

20 May 2024

Work on both bikes

It had been five months since my bike had had a service! And in another month, it was supposed to perform at competition level. It was really time I booked my bike in for another service. Luckily, the repair shop had availability. And on a Tuesday morning I brought it in.

James, the repair man, had a quick look. He saw I needed another chain and cassette. That is not unusual. I also told him that the pedals, that he had put on the previous time, were struggling a bit. He had a wiggle, and said both of them were about to fall off. I hadn't come a day too late! 

I also enquired after his plant. The previous time he had mocked me by planting a spider plant in the mud he had scraped off my bike. Or rather, of a rather limited portion of my bike. And the plant was absolutely thriving! I think it will have children next time I visit.

Having brought in my regular bike also meant I had to bike home on my spare bike. I had brought it into the office the previous day, when I had to come by car anyway, for reasons of a visit to the garage. I had noticed it really needed some lubricant, so I had to bring some into the office. It smelled interesting after I was done with the lube! But then I could ride home without worrying about the chain.

One disadvantage of my spare bike is that it had rather knobbly tyres. These were just the tyres it had when I bought it. But my commute is on asphalt all the way; I don't need knobbliness. And you can feel the extra effort it requires. So when I had come to work by car anyway the day before, I had popped by some shops on the way home; one shop I had visited was Halfords, to buy smoother tyres. But hadn't had an opportunity yet, obviously, to put them on. I did it that very night. And got covered in bike grease, obviously.

New tyres

It was nice to glide to work a lot smoother the next day! But that afternoon I got the call from James; my default bike was ready. So I only benefited from my new tyres for one day! But that's OK. Next time I need it it’s ready for me. 

It was good to pick it up, all clean and gleaming, with its lovely clean cassette and its higher quality new pedals. That would do me fine for my commute, and hopefully also on my first bicycle race next month! I will report back…