30 October 2011

Students in the mud

The wind howled around the building and the rain hammered the windows. The next day we would be in the field, with the students… if it would be similar weather that could get interesting! But the weather cleared up, and on a bright autumn morning I made my Plymouth teaching debut.

The students were supposed to do what we normally do in the field: take a transect of surface samples, take a core, and survey the whole shebang. So we travelled to the Erme estuary in two minibuses, and soon we were standing near a cute little salt marsh, with Roland handing out equipment.

Roland explains

The beautiful backdrop

It started a bit wobbly; I’ve quite done my share of surveying, but they had brought equipment I had never worked with. It’s cheap, small, light and easy to use. Evidently we would only bring the heavy, complicated stuff on fieldwork. So it turned out it was the easiest in the world but frankly, I should have had a look at these things before I would have to teach on them. Never having seen one before isn’t the proper preparation.

Beside that wobble it all went fine. Roland, Rob and me all got a group of students, and “mine” were an enthusiastic and clever bunch. So was the rest, I presume, but I didn’t get to check it. So in no time we had a transect, and had started to survey, and map the vegetation. We then we called to go coring; that was Wil’s thing. It’s not if we can’t do that, but we needed him for driving the minibus, so he needed a field task as well, and coring then is the most appropriate one. Of course I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut when he took out only half a core for my group; I knew that the only response to that was “would you care to show us how you would do that?” Luckily, I’m not bad at all, and lo and behold, I got a complete core out. Victory! Wil didn’t get it out in one piece, but hey, it’s only for a students’ project; not for anything that would get published.

Rob and Roland have a tea break

Salt marsh fieldwork often involves some prancing in the mud!

Having secured the core we continued on the surveying and sampling. And to my pleasant surprise there were two ladies in fashionable wellies who were quite keen to do the necessary prancing around on the mud flat. Excellent! Students don’t have that reputation. Altogether they were interested and motivated and smart and quite a pleasure to be in the field with. I look forward to the laboratory practical.

The fashionably wellied girl from my group daringly retrieving the surveying pole

It's a wrap!

At a record time of ~1PM we were all done. Which was good; it just started raining. And soon it rained heavily. And during the ride back I discussed with Roland what probably will be my next fieldwork with students… bring on the teaching!

24 October 2011

Tavy 7

Yes, another race blogpost! It may get almost as boring as caving blogposts. Was there anything special about this race? Well, not much I guess. It was a 7 mile race through sunny moorland. For me the special thing was that I had not had a comfortable run for well over a week. I had just been dragging myself along! Last week's extensive evening programme had taken its toll. And this week had been adding to that. I hoped the race would provide enough adrenaline to make it easier, but it didn't. My legs were made of lead! It was the most difficult race I'd run so far, even though the route wasn't very trying and it wasn't very far. But I was extra proud and relieved to have made it! I even had a personal supporter. And 7 miles in 58 minutes isn't bad at all. Not by my standards, anyway.

I had gathered my time wouldn't be so bad as I saw the usual faces around me; the world is small, and you run into the same people all the time. And you would end up running near those with a generally similar pace again and again. Even before the start I recognised a woman I had spent quite some time running behind, both during the Totnes 10k, the Saltram 10k and the Autumn Trail Run. And I finished just behind her, indicating I wasn't really slower than normal. To be more precise; I finished right behind her two weeks ago as well! And I wasn't slow relative to the field; I tend to finish in the middle, but this time I was 150 of 380. My next run will be the Plymouth 10k, and my preparations again will be most questionable, but if I can manage to stay close to that same lady I'll be fine!

Good weather and nice scenery!

The tormented face isn't a coincidence...

23 October 2011

Time for repair - again

Sometimes you wake up with that feeling something’s wrong. A logical thing to do is switching on the light. But then it might not work. And perhaps the next light switch doesn’t respond either. Nor the next. Nor the next.

If that happens to me it tends to mean I’m actually still dreaming. Though it could just mean a power failure. But recently I had a smaller scale version of such events: I broke the light switch in the bathroom. Annoying!

A few days later I opened it up and had a look. It looked fine to me! When I screwed everything back in place it worked again. Once. Time to buy a new switch.

There’s a lot going on, and it was after more than two weeks of showering with the door open and the light in the corridor on (the bathroom doesn’t have windows) I managed to put the new switch in place. An annoying job, as standing either on the bath, or on the little ladder that lives in the cupboard in the staircase, I can only just reach it. But I managed! And just in time; a few days from now I’ll have no fewer than five friends visiting. And they are well able to do what needs to be done in the dark or by candlelight, but that does hardly classify as practical…

A view one can easily take for granted: a working light switch and a working light on the bathroom ceiling

That taught them!

Two more sessions and it’s the end of the teaching course. And one of these I’ll miss this time, and I’ll have to compensate for that by doing the equivalent session in the January course, and until then it’s not over, but still, the end is nigh.

In the meantime I got to give my own presentation. I chose mine exploration. And more specifically: the use of mine exploration in the Southwest to individual and society. And a colleague I showed this presentation to already pointed out I might have chosen the subject just to show off with spectacular pictures. I admit that’s part of the story! More practical and justifiable reasons contributed too. Honestly.

Anyway. I delivered. One of the things I did, as it was a teaching course, was ask the audience if they could come up with some reasons why mine exploration had any use. And they did! I thought they would say things such as that it keeps you fit, and that it’s adventurous, but the room thought more practical. Especially two African gentlemen who thought more of exploiting any ore we might still come across… I’m not sure if this is a sign of them being less decadent and leisure-minded as us western Europeans, and more inclined to tap into commercial possibilities, but it might be. And perhaps they haven’t been numbed by western European over-regulating! As if we have the mineral rights of any ore we come across. Let alone any H&S issues involved if these mines would become someone’s workspace again… I thought it was interesting to see that unexpected angle from which to see the topic.

One of the pictures I used in my presentation

I went on, finished my talk, and later got the feedback sheets. Absolutely everyone mentioned I had been talking too fast! I had been. Everyone who’s ever heard me give a presentation will recognise that. But many said I can tell a tale with riveting enthusiasm. This tale, at least. I hope I can muster as much if I’m talking about sea level, or foraminifera, or something else more scientific. All in all it was a good exercise: as it went well it boosted my confidence, and I got useful criticism!

In the meantime we have also discussed things such as marking; there’s a lot to say about that if you delve in somewhat deeper! And plagiarism. And lots more. And we’re working on a presentation on Cognitive Information Processing we have to deliver on the last day. They keep us busy. But it’s worth it!

22 October 2011

Caving for the stressed

When the work stress hits everything suffers. Caving is a good stress release, but it takes time, so it also adds to the burden. But last week it worked out quite well! The normal club trip would go to Pridhamsleigh, but for those not so interested in natural caves there would be a rather short, but wet, trip to some adit. And that sounded like something right up my street!

Dave suggested he’d pick me up from other Dave’s place; that’s on the route, so he wouldn’t have to make a detour. In return from saving him the detour I negotiated the right to try and drag him out of the pub afterwards if I figured it was getting late. So we got there, got into our wetsuits, waders and other kit of preference, and through the scenic night we walked to the adit. It was beautiful! Clear water that offered an unobstructed view on the (very rare) wooden tram rails on the floor. Waist deep water! I like. But the adit didn’t go very far, so we were out in no time, and off to the pub, where Dave indeed allowed me to drag him out again after one pint. And then I had a fast downhill bike ride from other Dave home. I hung out my wet kit, put my headlight batteries in the charger, made myself a cup of tea and enjoyed that as early as 22.45! That’s how it should be…

The tram rails

I got turned into "flash monkey"; I'm pointing a flash gun down a flooded winze so Dave can take a picture of it. Or of me, of course...

The dream team minus Dave, who's taking the picture

Underground surfing!

On the way back

18 October 2011

New shirt

A blog post on a garment! That must be a special one. And it is. One of the local cavers has turned his hobby commercial, and sells caving kit online. And he also sells caving T-shirts. Self-designed, as far as I know. After the last training he brought in a whole bag of these, and sold well. And my favourite has the picture below:

Everyone will recognise the skull with the caving helmet. Not everybody will recognise what would normally be the cross-bones: they're two stops! Or descenders. The devices we use for abseiling down a rope. They're called "stops" because the idea is that they only feed to rope through if you push the handles that can be seen on top. If you let go, they stop. One hopes, at least.

If you go up a rope, you have at least two points where you are fixed to it. If you go down you have only one... so they're all that stands between you and death! I love this shirt. Might not wear it while visiting my mother, though...

17 October 2011

That'll teach them

If you want to teach students the beauty of sea level change, you first have to learn how to tie a full Windsor. This week Roland’s sea level course starts, and I’ll assist him, and in order to do that (and other things, such as taking students to Ireland in March, which is likely to happen) I enrolled in a teaching course. During my last appraisal talk with Roland this had been decided on. And it would take place every Thursday morning; the first one I had almost forgotten, so I came in late, but after that mishap I was quite involved.

This course is meant as an introductory course for PhD students who’ll be teaching, and the odd postdoc who has either managed to avoid, or not managed to acquire, teaching tasks so far. And we’re from all over university. And not only that; also from all over the world. And from all sorts of birth years.

We started with introducing ourselves, and then things kicked off. We discussed different educative styles, planning a lecture, learning in groups, values in teaching, how to give a presentation, and what not. I seem to not ever be in the position to be in bed early on a Wednesday, so I’m always tired, but I never feel it. I think I’m learning useful stuff! And it’s fun, too.

So where does the full Windsor come in? We are asked to all give a short presentation on a topic which is not our work. And as I write this I’ve seen three; the first lady disclosed the world of South American carnivorous plants. The next talk was a guy explaining us the rules of rugby. Helps me integrate in British society! And the third was a guy who, indeed, taught us how to tie a tie into a full Windsor knot. And I already knew how to, but still, I was kept on the edge of my seat. Blimey that guy can present. I hope he’ll never try to sell me anything!

Anyway. Yesterday, a Sunday, I spent quite some time writing my own presentation. On mine exploration. A surprise? And when that was more or less done I made one on cognitive information processing; a group assignment we have to do too. And I marked two essays. This week we’ll be discussing how to make sure different teachers would mark students’ work the same. They keep me busy. And I learn unexpected things along the way...

I think this really is a step towards growing up to become a proper, all-round academic. Bring in the students!

16 October 2011

More animals on the road than runners in the woods

During the week I run with colleagues. In the weekend I run alone. Unless there is a race. Or perhaps, unless there are other people keen for a nice, not too far away run. Such as runners of a club. Perhaps even an off-road running club. Such as had organised the Autumn Trail Run! I found out my diary was empty on the nearest day they’d have a club run, so I mailed them for information, and decided to show up. In my new off-road running shoes!

My new toys!

On a beautiful evening I drove to Milton Combe, where we would meet. And just out of town a traffic sign came to life; two deer dashed over the street, just in front of my wheels! A mother and a child, by the looks of it. Nice.

I came to Milton Combe and there was no runner in sight. No problem; I was early. And the village is very charming. But near 7 there still was nobody. Nor at 7. Or just after. Something must have gone wrong! Was it the place, was it the time? No way of knowing. But I figured that hanging around in the village wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I decided to go on a short dark solo run. The old air field was nearby!

The pub where I thought - perhaps erroneously - we'd meet.

I had a headlight with me, so that it was dark by then wasn’t necessarily a problem. Except that you can’t really see depth with such a beam. And I’m not overly keen on twisting my ankles. So I kept it short! And there were dodgy people around...

All the light that was left at the old airfield

When I tried to drive away I had to wait for some cocky horses on the road; in anticipation of the runners going off-road, the animals had taken over the tarmac! Even though I hadn’t found any runners anywhere among the trees... Maybe next time I’ll be more successful!

15 October 2011


“If you guys come across a corpse underground, would you perhaps be so kind as to notify us?” It seems the police had once really phoned the cave rescue team with that request. I wonder what they think we’d otherwise have done!

It does occur that the police suspect that someone who has gone missing might have been murdered and hidden in some abandoned mine or something like that, and ask cave rescue to keep an eye out for them. So far without result; of the four cases I’ve heard of, three were found elsewhere, and one hasn’t been found to this day. But the police want us to know what to do if the situation one day would occur. And, theoretically, underground crime scenes of a different kind could also come into being. So we dedicated an evening’s training to Crime Scene Investigation.

We first got a short theoretical briefing, and then we were supposed to amuse ourselves for a few minutes while our murder victims would hide somewhere. And then we could show our newly learned skills!

The full moon shone over our crime scenes

We combed out the quarry and the entrance areas of the caves, and after only minutes one of us already found heaps of evidence. At least, that’s what he claimed. He was all enthusiastic about having found some sweets wrappers. These would contain DNA! Most likely that of random passers-by, but that didn’t seem to dishearten him. But fairly soon we had found two stiffs (though one moaned about the weather), and some possible evidence such as a piece of rope, a knife, a piece of duct tape, and a syringe. It would later turn out these latter two were there by coincidence, but that didn’t matter.

Would I ever have use for this? I’m not sure if I hope for it. I can’t imagine it’s pleasant to have to recover a body, especially if it has been down there for quite a while, but it sure would be something different… And murder is bad enough as it is; a murder without a body is even harder for the police to solve, and probably harder for the next of kin to deal with. So we’ll just see if we’ll be called upon. At least we’re better prepared now!

14 October 2011

Follow the leader

Growing up comes with responsibility. I’ve almost been caving for two years now, and things have changed in that time. Instead of venturing into new territory every week, wide-eyed and overwhelmed, safely following behind someone more experienced, I have now slowly become that more experienced person. And that experience was called upon.

Rick would do one of his extremely muddy trips again, and Dave would come along. I'd done it before, so I didn't have priority. But that trip would only cater for a handful, and the rest of the club needed a trip too. And that trip needed to be lead… I couldn’t really think of someone to lead it other than myself. When the day came it turned out Rupert came along, and he knows the way, but he already leads quite a lot and I didn’t want to ask. So I took it upon myself.

The logistics were daunting. I would drive south to pick up Rupert, drive to Dave to pick up helmets, pick up a following car of a caver who didn’t know the way, and then drive north to the parking spot. There we gathered in few cars as near the entrance there was little parking space, and then we walked the last bit. And then we were underground! And immediately we had accidentally split up. Rupert had the veterans and I had the newbies. And they were good newbies! I just started scurrying through all nooks and crannies of the mine, which I knew well enough, and they happily followed; no balance was too precarious, and no scramble too technical for them. We had fun! And after a while we bumped into the others as well.

Me and my protégés

They're not afraid of anything!

Ceci n’est pas un puddle. Seriously!

We did a bit more scurrying all together, and then it was already time to go back to the cars. I unfortunately managed to dislodge my exhaust while driving with three passengers on a way too bumpy road, but it wasn’t so bad I couldn’t get home. And Rupert was so kind as to hitch a ride, helmets and all, back with someone who lived much closer to him than I do, so I could just skip the pub, and go back home. I need my sleep! And in spite of also ripping the rear view mirror from the windscreen on the way back I got home safely before 11. A good night caving, ending at a pleasantly civilised hour!

12 October 2011

Mind your language!

SMS. It can mean several things. The first to come up in my mind is “short message service”. And when one composes a “short message” one may be tempted to abbreviate. I’m not one to go as far as to write things such as “I h8 w8ng; is CWOT” or something along the line (those proficient in text speak will probably howl with contempt at this pathetic attempt anyway), but I tend to leave the subject behind, if it is a personal pronoun. So I would for instance say “hope you had a good day”. Or “should have gone to bed early”. The context tends to do the rest. But one should not get complacent! I was in the lab, and noticed someone had left samples outside the fridge. So I put them back, and texted the guy in question “put your samples in the fridge”. Wrong! The context will not disclose if this was a subjectless sentence, or an imperative… I should pay heed. And that reminds me of a slogan I found on Facebook (yes, I am very modern): “Dear People, I don't mean to sound slutty, but feel free to use me whenever you want. Sincerely, Grammar”. Too true!

11 October 2011

Autumn trail run

There are these moments when you find something on internet, and you feel the hours be drained from your life. I had one of these moments when I found the website of one of the regional running clubs which has a run diary on it. All runs in Devon and Cornwall in a neat list! One can just pick and choose! I felt like a child in the candy store. I found the Saltram 10k there. And I also found a nice muddy-sounding race. Eight miles through a park I’d never visited. But it sounded splendid! Lots of muddy, bumpy tracks with stinging nettles and protruding roots, and no fewer than 4 river crossings. Sounded like fun! As much as it did I failed again to attract any friends to this run, but that didn’t stop me.

I got to the venue and I soon had what I by now consider my standard racing grin on my face. Somehow the atmosphere at such events does that to me. I also found the chap that also works at Plymouth University, and who was the only familiar face at the Totnes 10k. And I ended up chatting with a guy who turned out to be a member of the organising club, who immediately tried to recruit me for the club in question. They go off the road all the time!

At 11AM we started, in the drizzle. I thought of Neil, who would, at that very same moment, be starting his marathon. That's quite a different league! My race was more play than anything else. And it started modest; on grass. But soon we were slithering through mud on slopes, splashing through opaque puddles, stumbling up narrow slippery rocky tracks and running straight into the stream. And down the slipperiest of muddy paths. And then more of that. Eight miles of it, evidently. It was lots of fun! And that park (for the locals: Newnham Park in Plympton) is worth a visit! It’s not very park-like, but very beautiful in its ruggedness.

Part of a race too: queue for the toilets a few minutes before the start!

Not all river crossings had an inflatable crocodile..

I had fun...

I had been a bit worried about blisters, as we would run almost the entire race in soaking socks and shoes, but it was no problem. The second last mile was almost entirely knee-breaking terrain, so I was slow as anything, but that way I had energy left for the last mile, which was on the most solid terrain of the whole race. I made up some of the lost time, and came thundering past several people in the last tens of metres before the finish. Two of these turned out to be parked right beside me. Oops…

Running past a herd of sheep in the drizzle. This was one of the most even parts of the race! Most of the route was unphotographable due to either darkness, or the requiring of all one's attention in order not to hurt oneself, or both...

I came in at 1:16:30, which is a time I’m quite happy with. And maybe I should indeed join that club… Running combined with water and mud; how can I resist?

10 October 2011

Who you're gonna call? Lionel and Margot!

On the first of October (or rather, the third as the first was a Saturday) no fewer than three new colleagues started their job! And though I could actually do without a night of boozing I let being a good colleague prevail over my health, and started an initiative to take them to the campus pub. And on Sunday I would run an 8 mile cross-country race. So one could assume I’d take it easy on Saturday. Wrong!

There was an opportunity to revisit a mine I’d visited before with the Cornish bunch. This time the plan was to explore some flooded bits. My favourite! So I managed to detach myself from my marvellous colleagues (who used quite a lot of charm in an attempt to sabotage that initiative, but one needs much charm to beat darkness, mud, gaping abysses and the lot) at 19.30; in time to go to the supermarket and buy some victuals for underground. They would go on to have a merry night, but come the Monday I turned out to have had, by far, the best weekend of all. Yay for caving!

I got up way too early and drove to Doublebois where I would meet Lionel, and together we drove to our destination. Half an hour too early, as Lionel hadn’t read the invitation correctly. This was mildly frustrating, but this way I got a chance to stroll around the charming Cornish village with its quite remarkable church. I didn’t bring a camera, though…

When I came back from my stroll almost all others had gathered too, and it was time to get kitted. As we could only park on the public road that was a bit of a challenge; one wouldn’t wish to disgruntle the locals by flaunting too much skin while trying to get into a winter wetsuit. And not much later we’d wrestled through the thorny bushes to the shaft. There is a laddered shaft, but why not have some fun? When threaded the rope through my descender and dropped myself into the unfathomable depth I was glad I had managed to escape excessive consumption of alcohol the day before.

When we were all down (that is, the rope users; another group had gone down the laddered shaft after all) we went to where we would try to get down to water level. Lionel fixed a rope and went down the not very favourable slope. When he was out of sight we heard him say “now I’ll make some noise!” and then Heaven and Earth collapsed. Or so it sounded. My heart almost stopped. He had kicked down “some” loose material… I was glad to hear his voice after the echoes had died down.

He decided that this was not the way, and while the others went exploring elsewhere he came back up. I showed him where the Cornish had figured we could have another try, but he discarded that route as too dangerous. And what Lionel considers dangerous is best stayed away from. So we just went exploring somewhere we hadn’t been before. And we had lots of crawly wady clambery fun! We were still wearing our winter wetsuits, and we hadn’t taken our rope climbing kit off (in case it would come in handy later) so we were somewhat overdressed for the occasion, but we were way too intrepid to let that get in our way.

When we came back to the others it was already quite late, but a third possible route had been found, and we couldn’t resist. Lionel went down yet again, and evidently reached water. In the meantime I changed the batteries of my headlight; we had been underground so long it was going out. And I was perched on a precarious ledge (attached to something solid though) so it wasn’t the best of circumstances, but I managed to not drop my helmet or batteries down the endless slope. By then Lionel was down, and I could hardly hear what he said, but I could make out I could come down too. Which I then did, aided by my rekindled light!

We ended up on a precarious wooden structure in a flooded ledge. This was enough to remove all the metalwork from our bodies so we could safely go for an exploratory swim. We fixed our kit to the rope, though; would the structure give it wouldn’t be lost…

The exploratory swim was enough to make our wetsuits worth their while, but only that; we reached dead ends on both sides, way too soon. Too bad! But now at least we know. And it’s quite possible nobody had been down there since the mine closed…

We scurried back up the rope and de-rigged. Now we really had done enough for the day! So we drank a sip of water and headed up the ladder way. It would take way too long to get up the rope…

It sounded so easy; climbing ladders. But this shaft was much narrower than the other, and they had only just managed to squeeze the ladders in, and as I was carrying a backpack I could hardly get up. Squeezed against the ladder by the bag I could only just move my knees! But we all made it out, de-rigged the other shaft, and got out of our wet kit. And then it was too late for an after-mine pint. But not for Lionel and me; we were hungry and far from home, so we went to a pub in a nearby village and enjoyed a splendid game pie. Plus pint. By the time I got home it was 8PM; I’d almost been gone for 12 hours! But I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this…

09 October 2011

More sweaty geographers

Geographical running had turned into a nice routine. Pete, Will and I would just plod along our standard route, needing 32 minutes to complete the 6km run. And all was well.

There was trouble on the way. One fateful day saw both the return of Jon and the debut of Hugh, and all would change. Suddenly the air was thick with competitiveness and ambition. And the smell of sweat; even worse than normal. And it all ended in a lethal end sprint, initiated (of course!) by our debutant. Pete is way too wise to be lured into such nonsense, but Jon and me aren’t, so in no time there were three heavily panting scholars amassed at the door of the office building. Hugh left us behind, but he had to pay for that with a cracked heel. Jon claimed he paid with a burst blood vessel in his eye… these competitive males must suffer for their silliness!

Our time, though, had been just under 31 minutes. A record! And we had run without Tornado Blake, so as soon as he heard of this his stormy pride was hurt. He had to equal that time.

The next time he could run only I was available as a sidekick. We ran, and lo and behold: under 31! It was now 1-1 for the two watery men who weren’t willing to yield to each other. That had to be settled.

The showdown came on an unusual day. Chris the Planner was back, and we greeted a keen new member of staff; Alison, who admirably joined us after less than a week on the job. Which was not just a debut for her, but also the first time I had to share my sweaty men! But it’s a pleasure.

Brave runners under a leaden sky

Too fast to be photographed! Fltr: Hugh "the Australian Whippet", Chris the Planner, Alison "too new to have an epithet", and "Tornado" Blake

Such a large group, with various speeds, makes a show-down difficult. There was an end sprint, won (of course) by Hugh, who now thinks the matter is settled. I’m not so sure. The Plymouth Half Marathon might have to give the final answer! But for now I hope the rising numbers of geographical runners are not a blip, but a real trend, and that not only we’ll run with many before lunch, but that next race I run I’ll have some colleagues to accompany me!

Coming and going

When Jon does as much as going to the supermarket for his groceries he already gives a goodbye party. But this time he was really leaving for a while, so a proper social gathering was due.

Later this month an exquisite selection of my hiking friends will be visiting the country, and such event needed to be prepared. So a proper social gathering (be it with me on skype) was due.

Unfortunately they were due at the same time. Sometimes two things happening at the same time means one can attend only one, but this occasion saw the combined talents of a woman (multitasking!) and a professor on transport geography (logistics!) and a brilliant plan was constructed. We would take the assemblage to Jon's favourite pub in deepest darkes Plymstock; me on my bike and the rest by cab, stopping by at Jon's place to fetch his laptop. I would then try the wi-fi in the pub in question and the neighbouring one; in case that worked it would all be simple. In case it wouldn't I would, when the time came, bike to Jon's, laptop and all, and use his own wi-fi. And after business return to the pub for further libation. Brilliant!

I arrived in the pub of choice, where Jon, including laptop, and the others had already gathered. This pub had no wi-fi, and a quick reconnaissance mission revealed the nearest other pub wasn’t as well-endowed as I hoped they would be. So I returned to the celebrations and started enjoying a pint. Then I realised, aided by a text message, I had forgotten the time difference between the Netherlands and the UK, so I jumped onto my bike and rode to Jon’s as fast as I could, which isn’t particularly fast due to the terrain. There I managed to safely get past all locks and alarms and whatnot, and no time later I looked straight into the living room of one of my friends. Even it was only a screen it was as if I was back in Amsterdam! Image is so powerful.

We have done such things many times before, and we got through the agenda like a hot knife through butter. I really look forward to the actual trip now!

Then we were done. I restored the house to its original state, biked yet again over the bugger of a hill between Jon’s and the pub, and arrived there to be immediately serenaded by the pub owner. Jon had already told them to nuke my food; I was hungry by now! So I ate while the rest drank, and it was a splendid evening.

On the other side of the pub some merry singing had commenced. And it seems that singing and guitar play in a pub has the same effect on Jon as Lionel buggering off in a random direction underground: he won’t have other people have all the fun! So he conjured up a guitar from somewhere and started strumming away. I don’t know many of the songs in his repertoire, but I did find myself belting along to “the bonny banks of Loch Lomond”. Mind you, we had people from all around the Commonwealth, but no Scotsmen. Nobody Welsh either, but we even enjoyed a rendition of the Welsh national anthem. And why not.

A good night with anticipation of all sorts. I hope Jon has a great time in Germany, and I look forward to seeing my friends on the bleak windswept hilltops of Dartmoor!

06 October 2011

Baker's revisited

I already have a book! Would that sentence have the same ring to it in English as it does in Dutch? Anyway. I’ve already seen Baker’s pit! The statement makes about as much sense. I’d been in Baker’s four times already, but it’s a big place, and every time I go in there I see new bits. So when I figured it was time to venture underground again, and the venue was Baker’s, I thought that would be fine. And it was. And when you go down anyway, you might as well do it properly, and go as deep down as it gets.

We were a rather large group, but we moved fast enough to cover quite some ground. After about 5 minutes I already was on unfamiliar terrain. And Rupert, who was leading us, suggested we go straight into the bowels of the cavern. We expected a lake there, and the longest permanent underground waterfall in Devon, or something like that. So we went for it.

A random pretty water feature in Baker's

Skip, one of our members originating in the Devon Speleological Society, found the, well, lake bed. It had been raining outside, but there was no sign of the lake! Just a water line on the dry rock. So after a quick look we went back; now heading in the direction of the waterfall. And its description doesn’t feature the word “permanent” for nothing, so indeed, this water body didn’t disappoint us. Though it’s a very modest drip, and is burdened by the big word “waterfall”. I was glad to have seen it, though! Due to work I don’t venture underground too often these days, but I was glad I’d come out. There is, after all, nothing like slithering and clambering around underground after a long working week!

Click on the pic to enlarge it, so you can see the actual water! This, my dears, is the waterfall.

Stuart wants to take a pic too, but needs to change memory cards first, helped by Beth

But then he and equally muddy Skip can do their photographic thing

And I'm happy down there...

04 October 2011

Summer walk in autumn

All work and no play makes Margot a dull girl. And sabbaticals and parental leaves make Margot a professor-deficient girl. All of that is bad! So when the weather in the weekend promised to be too good for office work, Lionel was unavailable for underground adventures, and the almost-on-sabbatical Jon would team up with Parental Roland and some other infamous characters for a hearty Sunday walk, I decided to join them.

The walk took us through the fields and forests of the sun-baked Tamar Valley, with its mining remains and country pubs. The weather was ludicrous for an October day, and many a droplet of perspiration was shed, but it was a nicely relaxing day in otherwise hectic times. And soon Roland will be back; parental leave in the UK isn’t of Norwegian length, but soon we’ll lose Jon for months to the Heimat. And in spite of his admirable efforts to paint a maximally negative picture of himself with a hideous do-rag and questionable fart-apps on his iPhone he’ll be missed!

This is what happens if four blokes spot a beautiful car

The Calstock Bridge in action; this bridge has been seen before on this blog!

02 October 2011

Wet baby heads

Bake a cylindrical bun. Cut it in two horizontally, so you have two thinner cylinders. Bake them again so they become bone dry and crumbly. Then smear butter on top and add aniseeds covered in white and blue sugary icing and serve these. As the doubly baked buns crumble you end up with hungry guests and crumbles and aniseeds all over the floor. That’s what every soundly thinking new father of a son would do, wouldn’t it? At least in the Netherlands.

Roland is the proud new father of a baby son, but he’s been living in England so long he didn’t bother with food that will reduce people to cookie monster regarding uptake efficiency. He did the UK thing: he invited his colleagues for “wetting the baby’s head”; this is the much more pragmatic tradition of just leaving new mother and kid where they are, and going to the pub to raise glasses on the new world citizen.

The splendid now complete family.

Jon, Jamie and me ventured north, and indeed, soon the proud father of young Aart showed up, and glasses were raised and gifts exchanged. But we got a bonus: a few pints on we were ready to leave, and Roland decided to phone Maria to find out if we could, after having wet it, actually observe the baby’s head. And we could! So soon we were admiring the serene little 5 days old chap, dozing off on his mother’s chest. A young chap worthy of having glasses raised to! I hope he’ll have a splendid life.