30 March 2011

Photographing underground water

Yes, another caving blogpost! We would visit Virtuous Lady mine, which I had only tantalisingly tangentially visited, so I was up for more. I ended up driving a fellow caver that I hadn’t met before, and soon we reached the patch of dreamy moorland where we would gather. And gather we did, in large numbers!

I remembered driving to the farm with all sorts of stuff on the roof of my car, and all the men having to get out as the holes in the track are just too big for a heavily laden car, so I figured that on this beautiful evening I could just as well leave the whole car behind and walk all the way. Quite a distance, but a pleasant one!

We set off. After a while Richard, who was walking too, said “you just walked right past that adit without even looking!” and indeed, there was a mine entrance beside the path. Emma, another one of the (quite rare) caving girls and me immediately sloshed in. It was wet! And muddy! And collapsed! So we had a ball. And befittingly filthy we continued.

I showed the troupe the way, as I had been there before, but we hadn’t gone more than 20 m before I saw a batch of bats. Bats! We had had some trouble in the club as a dissident voice had loudly claimed we are not careful enough with these, and though one can question whether one should encourage such belligerent voices, the bats shouldn’t be on the receiving side of club turmoil, so I decided to take the cautious approach. The drive over the moors had taught me my passenger was a bat specialist, so I asked him what we should do. He figured we should not go near. Hurrah for mines with several entrances! We went back and took the high road.

With so many people you don’t even need long exposure times or flash guns...

Virtuous Lady is a nicely confusing labyrinth with several flooded winzes and stopes and whatnot. So we soon scurried all over the place, and I tried especially to take some pictures of the various water bodies. With so many people around it can be tricky to take pictures with long exposure times, as someone is likely to walk through your view with a headlight on. But I got some acceptable results!
 A shallow puddle with Stuart as willing model

 A pretty collapsed winze

Richard in a messy part of the mine

Virtuous lady at her most whimsical

Pretty flooded winze

Another shallow pool with pretty blue water

At some point it was time to turn back. So we walked back up the long slope, thereby wetting our appetite for a drink in the pub. They seemed to have “dirty hooker” on draught, but when I ordered one I was too late. Luckily Dave, who was one of the last to enjoy such pleasure, gave me a taste. Quite good! So if I ever get the chance to enjoy both a virtuous lady and a dirty hooker in one night I will definitely do so!

28 March 2011


Stand and be counted! Me, and about 30 million other UK residents, were called to represent. And represent I did. In the UK, the government organises a census every 10 years, and the changes that brings to light tell a lot about what's going on in the country. They started this tradition in 1801, when there were fewer than 10 million Britons.

So what is it they want to know? How many people there are in your household, how many rooms your house has, what kind of a house it is, how many cars you have, what your qualifications are, what sort of job you do, what your marital status is. Very factual stuff! I was surprised to see that they also ask how healthy you are, and if you care for any relatives or others that can't cope alone. And how well you think you speak English. (They only ask foreigners that, of course!) And the most famous one; where they ask your religion, and where hundreds of thousands of Brits jocularly said "jedi knight".
From comparing all these censuses (seems to be the plural) they can evidently trace all sorts of societal changes. One can easily imagine which. There was an entire (and interesting!) programme on TV about it. But the thing that struck me most was not a change but a phenomenon. It seems that in Glasgow the difference between life expectancy of the well-off and that of the not-so-well-off is the biggest in the country: about forty years! And it's so big that of all the western countries, only the USA can match that. The class society is not dead yet! Typical...
I do like the idea that I am part of the 2011 data. Maybe I'm typical for the times; a single, highly educated, healthy female, who keeps all her time for herself and doesn't care for anyone less fortunate. Then again; I'm a foreigner, so all my old time friends and relatives who could end up needing care live at least one country away. But we'll see what they find in this batch of data!

26 March 2011

Office? No, the sun!

I think one full-time job is enough. Unfortunately, in science, these jobs tend to not be finished once the contract runs out. So you end up finishing your previous jobs beside a full-time position. Not ideal! But that's how it works.

I still have some manuscripts to send into the world, from my previous jobs, and I want to get it over with, so I aimed for a weekend in the office. Until I got a message from Emily, who has moved away from Plymouth, but who was in town for the weekend. She suggested going for a coffee, and that of course was a good idea! I suggested the Hoe; a marvellous suggestion if I may say so myself. So we had coffee in the sun, overlooking the sea! What more does one want. A good start of the weekend, and one that gives one strength to then go to the office and work away a sunny day after all!

The picture is too over-exposed to show the sea in the background, but trust me it's there!

25 March 2011

Caving with dead dogs

Some don't like dangling from a rope above a gaping hole. Some do. Some specifically request trips that involve such to be scheduled when they're available. And so we gathered on a Tuesday night with six eager people. We kitted up and went to the shaft. I did a small cool-down in the river (was wearing a wetsuit again) and then I was ready for rope work. So far all good! But that shaft emitted a distinct odour of decaying flesh. Not so good...

Ali was unabashed and rigged the shaft. A special rigging today; we installed both a rope and an electron ladder (or rather, two attached to each other, otherwise it wouldn't be long enough), as we wanted to know if ladders provide a reasonable alternative to SRT or not. As soon as all was ready Richard, who seemed to hardly notice the smell, went down. Seconds later he confirmed the presence of a dead sheep at the bottom of the shaft.

I went down second. And the smell hardly got worse! Then Ali appeared, and soon after I heard him shout up "OK, see you at the pub!" Evidently the other three thought the stench was so appalling they preferred to retreat unsatisfied over exposing themselves to this fragrance any longer. Which was somewhat poignant as the three deserters were Mike and Jenny, who had asked for this trip to be moved so they could come, and Bernard, who wanted SRT practice, but had decided against it on the previous trip, and was all fired up to give it a go this time.

Richard trying to not move for 15 seconds, with a flooded winze in front of him

We went into the sheepless side of the mine; I hardly remembered it from the previous time. Good to come back! And for several reasons; one was that there is one hole with a note from our own club that it’s dodgy in there, and it’s not recommended to go in. That it is dodgy, however, may just be a reason to go in anyway; Ali said the roof in there had been collapsing and collapsing and collapsing, and by now he thought it might actually almost reach the surface. He wanted to survey it to find out how much rock there still was between the stope and the surface. If that would be minimal, it may be time to warn someone! So we ignored the note, went in, found out that the surveying equipment wasn’t working, had a look around, and quickly went back. But the difference between the description Ali gave of what it looked like the first time he came there, and the lofty vaults we saw, was quite impressive.

The very narrow, but very high, unstable stope

Richard had had enough by now. Maybe he just didn’t want to get past the carcass. Ali was ready to leave too, but it would take them a while to get up the rope, so I figured I’d go into the sheep-containing side as well. Passing the sheep I had a better look; this animal had two rib cages. Strange. Or rather, it was two of them! At first glance it looked like a sheep in loving embrace with a sheepdog. What stories are contained in such a configuration! But I didn’t linger; I walked into the deep and cold water I remembered from the previous time. My favourite! And the reason I had put on the clumsy wetsuit. So I went in, and swam to the very end. Very nice!

Our smelly friends

When I came back to the rope the men were both up. It turned out they hadn’t used the ladder; the rope, which we needed as a safety rope, was rigged so that it would actually pull you away from the ladder. I wanted to know if a ladder is a feasible alternative to SRT anyway, so Ali did some quick re-rigging and up I went. Blimey! It’s good I’d been training my arms. I’m not used to electron ladders, so my technique was inefficient, and that way climbing up these 20m was way, way harder than just prussiking up. When I reached the edge my arm muscles were numb. Any novices who want to avoid SRT will probably be as unfamiliar with ladder-climbing as I am, so they would probably wear themselves out as much as I did! Not a good alternative, then. Now we know.

We de-rigged and went home. And normally Dave is the unfortunate one who ends up taking the dirty kit home and cleaning it, but this time Ali and I divided it. I took the ropes. Luckily they were not sheep-stained! So I dared shove them in the washing machine. The first time I got such a load. Two days later I would deliver it back to the store, clean and coiled. And two days later I also had a first good look at the pictures. That sheep had impressive fangs... it probably had been two dogs! Made me realise the danger of seeing what you expect to see. An unexpected wake-up call, given where and when I got it, but always useful for a scientist!

More microscope fun

I ogle down microscopes, I go underground, and I run! That's my life in a nutshell. But only if I run with Neil, who gets me to run silly distances, and who has a remarkably steady hand while running and thus can take pictures, the running leads to decorative blogposts. Caving, on the other hand, tends to yield interesting pictures every time. So if I don't sometimes blog about what I see in the mysterious depths of my microscope the blog will look like the only thing I do is dive head-first into any mine I can find. And I recently saw some nice things in my little lab-enclosed world, so I thought I'd share them. The first batch concerns things of which I don't know what they are; they look like miniature fossil maize ears. Useless to me, but pretty!

Three "maize ears". And notice two forams in the far left!

I don't only look at forams; as mentioned before, I also look for stuff to do radiocarbon dating on. And I photograph my samples with a camera mounted on another microscope. It can give a scale bar on the picture, but I thought something more imaginative would work too. With larger objects it's not unusal to insert a coin in a picture for scale, so I took a 5 pence piece (the smallest current UK coin) out of my wallet and took a picture of it, with the same magnification as I use for my 14C samples. And it turned out very arty! And that's how a crowned thistle made it to the blog...

21 March 2011

Underground at the beach

Two hours and two minutes. That was the time Google Maps said it would take to the next Cornish mine trip. Far away! But Mark, the bloke who sends the messages out, reassured me it would be worth it; lots of mine to wander around in, some of it unexplored. And lots of it wet. That won me over!

We reached Cape Cornwall; a place of beauty. More information from the guys convinced me a wetsuit would be silly, so I got into my normal caving kit. And wandered onto the rocky beach, where to my surprise I saw what seemed to be thousands of youngsters in helmets. Probably geology students! Contemplating that, I suddenly saw someone looking at me. Richard, one of our lecturers! So indeed it was geology students. But not just any kind: our own! That’s nice.

The beach as we found it

We clambered in, and it soon got wet. And crawly, with glass shards. And balancing beside gaping holes. And then a tricky climb; luckily we had Lionel the Fearless to negotiate it, and then fix an electron ladder (a steel wire – aluminium steps ladder) in place so the less adventurous could follow. All good fun!

This mine though ended in a level with deep, cold water. I wanted my wetsuit! But I didn’t wear one, and neither did almost everybody else, so we turned back. I did a small explore with Darryl, but then it was time to come out and have a sandwich.

A somewhat fuzzy Darryll at a colourful underground waterfall

A slightly less fuzzy Darryll at a nicely narrow part of the mine

Lunch on the beach! Or the prospect of it. Lionel seems to prefer a rock. Do notice the helmeted students in the background.

As we hadn’t managed to get to the other side of the cape underground we went above ground. This was properly unexplored, so we could expect anything, and therefore I donned my wetsuit after all. And got quite hot walking to the other beach! Luckily rock beaches have pools in which you can cool down. The adit would be in the middle of the cliff face, and cliff faces are not the best places for wetsuits, but we all got there well. This place was quite wet as well! And had plenty of opportunity for playing.

The other beach, here still with low water

Me cooling in a pond, taking a picture of the men scurrying at the bottom of the cliff. The entrance is somewhere halfway up the cliff face.

And seen from above!

At the end the mine ended in a hole. No way you could free-climb that. But it looked mightily interesting down there! Lionel lived up to his reputation, nicked a plastic rope from the previous tricky climb, and lowered himself with proper contempt for death into the cold water. I was wearing a wetsuit! I should be down there! But I was scared. But after some faffing, my fear of letting Lionel have all the fun without me won over my fear of that gaping hole. I lowered myself too! Straight into Lionel’s chivalrous arms. It’s good to cave with gentlemen. And then we were off! Lionel, who was in his normal outfit, suffered, but I felt like, well, a fish in the water. We explored all the way to the end, chanced a few pictures, and came back. There I looped the rope through the crab on my belay belt, and Mark pulled me out with unprecedented force (I've been pulled by a Cornishman!). And then with a helper he did the same with Lionel. Splendid teamwork! But now it was time to get out.

The flooded stope

When I reached the entrance I saw Lionel run over the disappearing beach, shouting at us that we had five minutes. Splendid! We rapidly made out way down the cliff, and over the beach back to the path. The water by then was about knee deep; if it would have been any deeper there would be a good risk of being knocked over by the waves. (Do not fear though, reader; if we would have deemed it too dangerous we would simply have gone up from the mine entrance instead of down, thereby entirely avoiding the beach.) What a splendid finale to a good trip! Mark was right when he told me it would be worth the drive...

Last picture: the very scenic Cornish coast, with even a nice ruin on the hilltop. And much higher water now!

19 March 2011

Being English

I said once the English will not exercise unless for charity. Whether true or not: I have something to add to it. They wear plastic flowers for charity, too! Even foreigners must have noticed the poppies on everybody's lapels in the period before Remembrance Day, which is November 11th. The Royal British Legion, an organisation that supports those who are or have been in the British armed forces, and those depending on these, organises this so-called poppy alleal. Most support goes to those in most need of it: those that have sacrificed their health to service. The idea is that you buy a poppy for whatever you wish to donate to this charity, and wear it as a sign of support. Everybody wears one, so everybody who watches BBC (all the Dutch, for instance!) notices the phenomenon.

There is a new flower in town! At least, it was new for me. Suddenly there were plastic daffodils (the national flower of Wales! But that may be a coincidence) for sale in the pub; donations went to Marie Curie cancer care. I bought one. I thereby supported support for the terminally ill. And doing so made me feel very English. That can be a good thing!

18 March 2011

Entertaining the guest

“As you know, we have your countryman Arnoud Boom delivering the seminar next week. Would you mind chairing (Tim is gone next week)? I’ll meet and greet Arnoud, but as you can understand it would be far more appropriate for him to be introduced by a physical person rather than a mere human!”

I got this e-mail from Federico (for those who wonder why he calls himself a mere human: read this), and when I answered I would be honoured to take that task upon myself, I thought I would indeed just be chairing that seminar, but how wrong I was. By the time afore mentioned scholar took the train back to Leicester my mind had been boggled by hyraxes, oldtimer naval vessels, large fish, fossil urine, muscular snails, old friends, Sinterklaas, and much more.

It started with me e-mailing the gentleman, asking him to provide some information so I could properly introduce him. He sent me a file that made me rush to Wikipedia. He apparently was working, among other things, with hyrax middens. Hyraxes? Never heard of. Wikipedia taught me I had heard of them (klipdassen!), but I had no idea what they looked or acted like. Youtube gave me an idea... they are marvellous! And it seems they tend to relieve themselves in the same place over and over again, over generations, so in the end you have a pile of dried-out hyrax pee, and if you are a biochemically skilled palaeoclimatologist, of a palaeoclimatologically skilled biochemist, you can deduce all sorts of information form that. Amazing!

When the man arrived in town I joined Federico and Tim, who organise our seminar series, and of course Arnoud, for a beer and dinner. We went to a sea food restaurant, where Tim and Federico had fish & chips of such ridiculous size it merited a picture. I there learned Arnoud actually is the co-owner of the steam boat of Sinterklaas, and that it’s actually an old British marine vessel, having something to do with torpedoes. Blimey!

Tim attacking his tiger shark-sized deep-fried fish

Then the next day there was the talk. The second slide brought me back to Amsterdam. Wesselingh, 2009! He used material provided by good old Frank! That’s a trip down memory lane. Third slide: Kaandorp, 2005. Later I heard he had also had discussed collaboration with Hubert, with whom I had done belemnite work in the distant past, of which the concomitant manuscript should be in review now.

A left-over belemnite from my Amsterdam work

One thing he had needed Frank for was the identification of a massive tree snail. It must have been about a foot long, with a 1cm thick shell. It must have been massive! Imagine that falling on your head. And imagine the snail then having to haul that shell all the way back up.

It was a good talk! I hope I get asked to do that more often... you get much more than you bargain for! If this was representative...

17 March 2011

All that can go wrong with the body

Tomorrow I'll be a better person! I have a bit of a precedent of being convinced I should do something, but pushing actually doing it in front of me, sometimes for decades. A good example was getting my driver's license. Another thing I thought I should do was getting a first aid qualification. I figured it was quite selfish to have no clue about such things. But the opportunity did not present itself.

Things changed with me joining cave rescue. And more so with ending up on the first call-out list. And then our paramedics started training us up for real. This was my chance! So I learned about systolic and diastolic pressure. And ketoacedosis. Agonal breathing. Nasal-pharyngeal airways. And lots more. But I also learned that what we were learnng was casualty care, which is quite a step up from first aid. And then they told me that you can only get certified as a casualty carer if you have a first aid qualification. And I have none! So in addition to the cascare book I borrowed from the cave rescue team, I then ordered a first aid book. Some documentation will certainly help! But it means literature will have to wait now. I have to go through two voluminous books that deal with everything that can go wrong with the human body. And crikey, that's quite a lot! But I'll probably find an opportunity to get my first aid qualification fairly soon, and then seamlessly move on into the direction of the cascare certificate. And then just hope that nobody near me gets into trouble and I'll never need it!

14 March 2011

Half marathon!

The next step is a straight jacket! This running thing is going out of control. It started with an innocent pre-lunch run. Then there were some evening runs. Then I found Pete, to run with on a regular basis, and that helped. Then Will the Tornado joined us. Then Will contracted an injury and Pete immersed himself in self-torture loosely disguised as football, to which he (temporarily) sacrificed the running, so then I started running on my own. That went well! So I wanted to perhaps do a somewhat longer run in the weekend.

With Neil I had run a few times around Burrator reservoir. First two rounds, which worked, but took its toll on my knee. And then Neil did two while I pulled out after only one, as my knee this time agreed even less with the incessant asphalt. So I figured running was perhaps OK, but not such distances on a hard substrate. But I had heard he now ran off-road as well! So I mailed him to see if he was doing anything fun. And guess what he had scheduled. Around Burrator reservoir three times. I should know better! I didn’t know better. I committed.

We had accidentally picked a beautiful day. We started calm; 21.6 km is very far. After the first round I was still fresh. The second one flew by like nothing! I didn’t even hesitate to start a third round, though some tendon in my left groin had started protesting. And my feet were tired. But we just went on, and it still was going well, though every step now was one step further than I’d ever run before. And I started to feel it! Somewhere quite a way into the third round I felt my speed dropping off. Neil was so kind as to run some loops so he wouldn’t run too far away from me. And near the end my right knee started protesting too. And my spleen. But I ran on, and to my surprise I got back to the car quite fresh. A half marathon done, for the first time in my life! And I had looked at my watch; we had needed only 1h55. Not bad at all! And as NeiI’s route includes some quite unnecessary hills it may be a harder route than the actual Plymouth Half Marathon. I evidently can do these things!

Looking fresh during the fast second round

The low sun turned us into long-legged giants!

Arty-farty pic with setting sun

Me in the final few hundred metres; the strain is beginning to show!

And done! Looking fresh as ever...

When we were done I needed some stretching, and I was hungry now, and I also got cold quite soon, but hey, it could have been much worse! My knee, spleen and groin seemed to think that with the running done, complaining wasn’t necessary anymore, and I walked around without the slightest limp.

When Neil was done with his cool-down we went to his place for a shower and some splendid grub. And some ogling of tin; you can’t visit Neil at home without some of that. And some Belgian beer. And when it was all done I even walked (!) home like a veritable doe. A good day! I think we’ll do something of the sort again someday soon. And I have clearly been properly bitten by the running bug now. Who would have thought. Not me!

Neil predicted I would get wild reactions when confronting my colleagues with my achievement. And he was right! Rob’s reaction made me so proud I cannot resist the temptation to share that. And mind you reader, Rob is a young, tall lad, who works out a lot, and who doesn’t count anything as a work-out if he doesn’t have to be treated for shock caused by bleeding from all sorts of burst blood blisters and worse wounds afterwards. So he said: “I’m surprised to see you aren’t suffering for it! I couldn’t walk for days afterwards!” And when I pointed out I was tired in the legs the day after, and had needed 10 minutes more than him, he wasn’t convinced. He called me superhuman! The fittest bloke in the world calls me superhuman. Blimey. And he said “if you train for a half marathon, you don’t do that by running a half marathon! You run about two thirds of it in training, and then on the day itself you run the whole thing on adrenaline. You don’t just churn them out like that! It’s not how such things are done!” I was really, really chuffed after that. Thanks Neil and Rob! Had a big smile on my face the rest of the day…

I am short of faith, so when everybody indeed thought I had run like mad I checked the distance, which Neil had claimed was 21.6 km, though he'd express it in miles, on Google Earth. By my measurtement we "only" did 20.6 km, which is a few hundred metres short of an actual half marathon, but it's still very far! I'm still proud.

13 March 2011

General mutterings and a bug

The last blog post describes activities of an entire week ago! I'm getting cold turkey. It's not as if nothing has happened the whole week; I ogled lots of mud, I went running three times, I celebrated two birthdays, engaged in water rescue training, saw a splendid movie (the King's Speech), and ate taco's. But the only event I took pictures of was one of the birthdays, and it would take a while to ask all on the pic for permission to publish it. And postings without pictures are not as exciting as those with.

While I type this I realise there would be something to write about. My running is going well; I keep up the solo-running. I could do a review of the film. I liked it! And the water rescue training showed me I am a bit too stressed about work. Before we'd even gone in the direction of the training I was already fuming that they'd better make it worth it, as I was sacrificing a whole evening in which I also could have ogled much more mud. A bad sign. And the water training, this time in a pool, was hardly adding to the water training we'd hade before, in the Dart, which was much more fun and more topical as well, but luckily it was fun anyway, and I have to admit, I need all the training with a throw-bag I can possibly get. My aim is crap.

Anyway. I didn't write about any of that. But I should post something, if only to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay! So I decided to publish a picture of a critter I came across in my sample. I see the likes of these a lot, but this one was splendidly preserved. So I used it as a post-mortal photo model. This little friend is about half a mm to a mm long. I specifically liked the hooked feet!

09 March 2011

Deep down and dirty

The hour of truth had arrived! The time had come to explore a rat-sized hole, probably unexplored since the closure of the mine in 1903. (Some arsenic production happened after that, but I assume that was another part of the mine.) Rick, Lionel, Dave and me gathered at the chimney of Devon Great Consols, and well, a mere 1.5 hours later (Dave needed more time to get ready than Kate Moss needs for getting ready for a night out, according to Lionel) we ventured underground. Lionel showed his unequalled rigging skills (all safe though, readers!) and down we went. Once down Dave conjured up a tripod and a new camera, and he got so carried away that the next time we saw more of him than some light in the distance was back at the surface.

We do not leave things to fate: here we measure the ropes so we're sure we have enough of it...

This simply is a beautiful part of the mine; the wide lode, and the false floors on massive timbers. It's fewer and fewer of these with time, though... on this picture you can see only one. The white light above it is Dave taking pictures. The floor is level, by the way; the camera was slightly tilted...

We pushed on, and soon Rick and Lionel were down where we had ended the last time. Lionel is better with a crowbar than with a deviation (though his Y-hang was immaculate!) so in no time the hole we had in mind was big enough for a human. Which human? The two sturdy tough guys looked at each other, looked at the hole, looked at each other again, and then I heard a voice from down there call “Margot; do you feel brave today?” Of course I did! I had hoped all the way I would be the first one down. And the opening probably was big enough for the men too, but Rick isn’t as comfortable on a rope as he should be, and Lionel had no faith in the air quality down there. We had forgotten to bring a monitoring device....

I dropped down into what evidently had been a narrow ladder way, which after a while opened up again to full mine shaft size. They had evidently created a partial ceiling, leaving only these two ladder ways open, stacking loose rock up over many meters. That was what the men were standing on.

When I had a bit more space for looking around I had to conclude the winze had been flooded. It must lead to a level we cannot reach. Too bad! If there’s a period of drought we might come back. Maybe then we can explore further.... but for this day the exploration had come to an end. I came back up, incessantly talking (that was our improvised oxygen monitoring device; if I would stop the men would know there was a problem, and haul me back up), and soon resurfaced, looking like one big blob of mud. Happy days!

One may believe me when I say that kit needs rinsing. The face too, by the way...

We decided to go back. Here my new and improved arm muscles worked a treat! I had the honour of being the last one up, so I did the de-rigging; that’s good, as I can use the practice. That I managed to emerge at the top of the last big rope pitch as a veritable plate of spaghetti, having knitted myself and my kit thoroughly into the rope, may be a sign I still have some skill-honing to do.

We came out in the unexpected sunshine. What a day! I should have jumped into the nearby pond, as it would have greatly relieved the stress on my bath as a main means of cleaning up, but one can’t think of everything, now can one. Compromised hygiene or not, this had been a good day of exploration!

08 March 2011

Birthday pub crawl

Going to a birthday party tends to be fun. Roland made us take it literally. He sent out an invite to the remote pub where he wanted to celebrate it, and had turned the travel there into a pub crawl of its own right. A splendid idea!

He had sent the invite out fairly late, so many people already had other plans. In the end it was only Pete, Sabrina an me, and partially Bill’s extended family, that happened to travel home at the same time, that embarked on the indicated train.

We took the slow, scenic train to Calstock, where we had our first pint. Then we took the bus in the fading light to Metherell, for the second one. When we stepped out of that pub it was pitch dark, except the screen of my phone, where a message from Roland, who was waiting for us in the last pub, had appeared. It read “Come and rescue me. Nobody has turned up (yet)!” He had evidently thought more of his guests’ fun than of his own. Luckily we were nearby, and I was glad to see I could successfully navigate thought the pitch black night, so only minutes later we stepped in, greeted by Roland’s glad face.

The pub in Calstock. After that it became too dark or too crowded for pictures!

Now it was time for kisses, presents, pints and food orders, while the band was preparing their set. And then an evening of merriment followed! The band, clad in what people tried to convince me were Cornish kilts, played rock classics; the crowd loved it, some barefoot nutter didn’t stop dancing, the beer and the food were good, and a bit later Bill and his wife, and even Jamie, one of our cartographers, showed up. And hardly a mouse could have squeezed into the pub at that time. The whole population of the Tamar Valley must have gathered there!

The popularity of the venue did have a disadvantage; the only way to the last train home was by a taxi of some sort. But these were all taken for hours to come! Roland thought of a cunning plan, and cut his own party short by going home, and sending his sober wife to come and get us. In the train back Pete couldn’t stop singing “Sweet Home Alabama” but even that couldn’t kill the good mood. Not a bad birthday party at all!

07 March 2011

Dartmoor, again

I remember the claustrophobic feeling I had at the end of my time in the Netherlands. I had gotten too urban. I gagged for the wild outdoors! And then I got over two years of exactly that. But that couldn’t last, and now I am back in civilisation again. And I started to feel it again. The caged tiger feeling! So when the weather was good on a Saturday I buggered off to Dartmoor. Hadn’t been there for a while! And I didn’t stay long; Roland needed to be celebrated, but it was enough to get some fresh air, some sense of open space, and a bonus in the shape of some industrial heritage. I needed that! I felt better afterwards. And maybe the pictures make that believable...

The battle between winter and spring: frog eggs in water with a film of ice...

I figured I should be so polite as to make an appearance on my own blog once in a while.

Not just a pretty landscape: notice the somewhat misplaced-looking bridge! Closer examination revealed an old railroad underneath it.

Along the railroad I found an old quarry, with two strange circular features in it. No idea what these are!

On this picture you can beautifully see the old railroad coming from the right, and making a turn along the isolines on the left.

And what's a bunch of pictures of Dartmoor without a few Dartmoor ponies!

Growing up: the sequel

I recently wrote about how adult I am in the kitchen and the wardrobe these days! But it got worse. I decided to retire one of my pans. The picture below, with the oldie in question and its replacement beside it, shows why. Before you know it I have a functional household!

04 March 2011

Happy flowers

I wonder how many people think this is an ominous title. I typed it and it felt like a cynical comment! But really, this post, written in a time where more unlikely things happen, really is about happy flowers. I recently invited some people over for dinner, and Pete and Sabrina, who were among these, brought flowers for me! That was really nice. They're still beautiful amost a week later, and I figured they may festoon the blog as well.

So what other unlikely things are going on? This week I surprised myself, for instance, by proving I can go for a run on my own. I don't think I've ever run without someone to run after! But I did the usual round, and I was less tired than normal. And that's expected; that's where the blokes come in. I can't motivate myself to run into exhaustion if it's not for keeping up with some chap. But the good thing was: I was as fast as normal! Evidently, the talking takes a lot of your breath...
Anyway; I can do it alone, and that means I can keep myself in good shape even when all my running companions are scattered around, weak and injured and whatnot. (They are, actually; one is down with a hip injury and the other one with a cold...) And there's more revolutionary stuff in the pipeline. But more about that when the time is right!

03 March 2011

Don't follow the racing snake

The best biking helmet is a mining helmet. That is, at night and on unlit tracks. And this week we went to Radford Cave, in Radford Park, which is unlit indeed. And the bicycle path to and through it partly follows an old rail track, so it slopes only gently, which makes it a very attractive route for the lazy cyclist. So I’d biked there many times, only lit by my bike light, which is only JUST enough to not bike into a tree or into the estuary. But as I now had all my underground kit with me anyway, I put on the helmet upon entering the park. Marvellous! It must have looked odd, but there was nobody to see it.

Radford Cave is a nice nearby treat, with lots of possibilities for scrambling fun. I remembered struggling with the trickiest bit the previous time we did it, but this time I was up in no time! This made me somewhat overconfident, for soon there appeared a passage one could try at three levels; Over, through or under, where under was the most challenging option. Richard, our Racing Snake, tried it, but decided against as it was too tight. And a good rule of thumb is: if Richard can’t get through, don’t even think of trying it yourself, but I was being silly and tried it anyway. To no avail, of course, but the same holds for Rupert trying to photograph this defeat. But I had the bruises to still enjoy it the days after! We didn’t play around for too long, though, as we knew there were people waiting for us.

I delayed us a little bit by going the wrong way, followed by an indignant new member that thought I would know where I was going, but soon we were out anyway.

The helmet did a good job on the way to the pub: more unlit roads! These are adorned with vicious speed bumps and treacherous potholes, so more light was no unnecessary luxury. It worked out well! And I think that next time I’ll bike to Dave to hitch a ride I do the Radford Park by Mining Light trick again...