30 December 2013

Christmas in the Netherlands

That's where Christmas happens! Well it happens all over the place, of course, but I have decided that it's a good default location. With my mum not being able to travel elsewhere for Christmas I travel to her. And as usual; when I'm in that neck of the woods anyway, I visit other people too!

I was picked up by Monique. When we got to her place I found myself attached to her youngest dog, who had sunk her teeth into my trousers and was growling enthusiastically, but she was peeled off swiftly and professionally by Monique's husband Mike. And from then on I had a nice time there! I stayed the night, and in the morning I went for a run. I went without camera, which was stupid; I was running along the shore of the IJsselmeer, the black waves were lapping at the dyke on which I ran, the slate-gray skies were raging overhead, and the cute dyke houses were as defiant as they were small. If there is a time and place to feel Dutch and proud, this might be it! I didn't intend to run excessively far, but it was just too beautiful to stop. I turned around when I ran out of land...

I found a picture online of where I ran

Later we went out again, to walk the dogs. And got a proper soaking! The young dog thought it necessary to check about 6 times whether that creature with the hood really was that person she had deemed acceptable earlier, but otherwise all was well. And soon it was time for the next leg!

This part of the trip brought me to historic Leiden, to my old friend Dick who was my MSc supervisor, and his wife. We caught up over beer, wine, port, cognac, coffee, and an amazing meal; with Dick you know you won't go hungry. Or thirsty. And there's always a lot to talk about; science, of course, but also his grandkids from all over the world, his latest traffic accident, sport, and whatnot. And here I also spent the night. The next morning I used my new laptop for a bit to work on some job applications while he already started preparing for the next meal. He's like that! It was nice to work to the calming chopping sounds coming from the kitchen, and I got stuff done, which made me feel a lot more relaxed.

De Oude Rijn, where they don't live, but which gives a nice impression of Leiden

And then I was off again. To my sister! That evening we would have a "cousin-dinner"; a first. There is the annual family day, but that's with all three generations, and this was for one (mine) only. It would just be three out of seven, but it's a start. Theoretically we could reach six, as only two can't be sociably combined, but one of these six lives in Canada, one has about three full-time occupations of various kinds and one is a bit elusive. So three it was! A good start, anyway. But I wanted to be a bit earlier to see my sister and her family separately too. And I did! The kids showed me their tablet and their favourite Youtube videos and favourite Spotify tracks, and played me some piano. And with my sister I discussed more grown-up stuff like jobs and health and education and such.

Then we went to the station to pick up our cousin Sandra. I hadn't seen her in yonks; not since the start of this blog, at least! But she hadn't changed a thing. And we had a great time. I'm not too family-minded; I think because I'm not from the best of examples, and I chose to find my place among people I was not related to. But 20 years have passed, and I have found a place for myself now (not in space, but somehow in the world, if that makes sense), and maybe this is the time to go back to where I came from. And there is something about discussing life 30 years back with those who were there. And it was also just fun and good food. The only bad thing was the weather we had to get through to get there and to get back!

The next day I wanted to go for a run again. I was hoping to lure my brother-in-law along; he should really get a bit fitter, and running is easier with a pace-maker. And he joined me! Doused in lack of enthusiasm, but he joined. So I waited until he was ready and we were off. After only six minutes he turned back, but I was feeling fine, so I did a nice big loop. A nice one! Again I missed my camera. Will I ever learn? When the loop was some 270 degrees finished I saw the path that would make that 360 degrees, but it looked boring; I went straight ahead instead. And, of course, got lost. And you can't REALLY get lost there on the moorland, but I was lost enough to run a bit longer than planned. After about 80 minutes I got back to my sister's place, where I found her looking a bit apprehensive; she was supposed to be somewhere at 11, and it was already past that time! She had forgotten to tell me. Oh dear. She vanished, and I got told to just pull the door closed behind me after my shower. So I did!

The sort of landscape I was running through. Pic by Sebastian Scheper.

Next stop: my mum. The main goal of the trip! I wouldn't stay long; I would go to Amsterdam later. But I wanted to seize this opportunity too. So I did! Nothing like drinking tea with your mum. We also started making plans for when I would return, on Boxing day. And then I was off, to Amsterdam, to see Roelof. And his boyfriend, and whoever of my other friends he had roped in. (Which turned out to be Erik.) We went for dinner in some hip hot place on the other side of the street. It was fun, and the food was great! Unfortunately, my stomach started hurting. But shamelessly lying flat on my belly on the couch after dinner solved that. And a long night followed! With daft banter, and serious reflection, and music of various levels of quality. It was fun! But I tend to go home exhausted after trips to the Netherlands, especially when I have no control over my bedtimes, and I clearly had lost that here. And with passing time and rising alcohol levels the level of conversation didn't rise accordingly, so I played party pooper and started cleaning my teeth at 3AM. The hint was taken, and the day called. About time!

A picture taken the next day, of the river Amstel a bit south of where Roelof lives

The next day I woke up, and saw it was already past 11AM. Oh dear! I shamelessly woke Roelof up, had a shower and breakfast, and left the men to their hangovers. And went to my dad. He hosted Christmas day. I would see my sister and her family back as well. And they all came out to welcome me! We started with a small tour of the local playgrounds, on the initiative of my niece Nora. And we played some games. With my sister's kids already between 6 and 11 years old, the difference between child and adult is clearly shrinking, which makes it easier to integrate such things. It was all very domestic and Christmassy! And later, of course, a lovely dinner. After dinner my sister absconded, and I played another game of scrabble with my parents. And lost convincingly, but that's OK: I did lay "cyanide"! Now what's more important. And now it was bedtime; I felt the late night of the day before.

The whole family on the balance beam

I couldn't sleep. It's not unusual unfortunately, but still annoying. At 3.15 I got so bored I read a bit, and after that I could sleep. For a short while. I woke up again with a sore stomach. I couldn't face breakfast. After checking the river levels in York (I had seen English flooding on the news - how would York fare?) I dragged myself to Amersfoort again. I just managed a cup of tea with my mum before I decided to go to bed. I was knackered and miserable! I occasionally came out for another cuppa, but spent most of the day in bed. Not how I had imagined things to be, but what can one do.

The next day I felt better. And I needed to; there was a demanding rendez-vous in the diary. In the run-up to my visit I had suddenly received an email from my ex-boyfriend Floor, asking if I fancied going for a coffee. Yes! I did, but it is a bit like being asked by a 16 Tesla magnet to go for a coffee. One appreciates the offer, but might be a bit nervous about the sheer magnitude of the forces exerted on one's body. I had last seen him 2.5 years ago, which already was a bit nerve-wracking, and things have changed in the meantime. Some changes for the better, some for the worse, but none to make this occasion easier. And it wasn't. It was good to see him, and hear about all the changes in his life (including having a son in secondary school! Doesn't time fly), but the 16 Tesla were clearly felt. When he departed I returned to my mother a bit shaken. She had blamed the whole stomach problem on this meeting. We had expressed the intention to meet up again next time I'm around, so I'll have to try to make sure my stomach is in excellent condition. And for now, I dealt with the situation by going into town with my mum.

The square at which I had coffee with Floor. Pic by MelvinvdC at nl.wikipedia.

I had let slip I wanted more colour in my wardrobe, so my mother dragged me through every credible clothing shop in Amersfoort. We managed a shirt! And I stocked up on things not easily obtainable in the UK, like cheese and kokosbrood. And then my departure was imminent; I would visit one last set of friends (Henco and Maaike) on my way back. The top 2000 of all times festooned the occasion, as did a set of cardboard monsters. Be prepared for some idiosyncrasies when you visit these two! But my visit was brief, and ended in Henco valiantly offering me a backie, huge backpack and all. We're Dutch so we can do it! And that way my trip ended with slightly battered intestines, heart and backside, but hey, it could've been a lot worse...

27 December 2013

MOT with guarantee to the door

When I brought my car to the garage for its annual MOT test I figured it wasn't a day too soon. The last weeks it had been especially wobbly and unbalanced. And it's always rusty. This year it of course needed some welding, and then also some brake part, and a new tyre. And that helped! A worn old tyre must have been the cause of its wobbliness as it was a smooth ride once I got it back. Smooth but noisy; I had to go back as some air pipe of sorts had come undone and was kicking up quite a racket, but when that was fixed too I had a fine car again. Coming Queen's Day (or the aftermath of King's Day, this coming year) the old thing will turn 20! A respectable age for a car.

And then I brought it to university to be able to go caving with it. When I was trundling along in a queue I saw a pedestrian point at a corner of my car. Was something wrong? Maybe he referred to the damaged light. But no! It turned out to be a flat tyre. I had noticed it wasn't running as smoothly as it had just after coming back from the garage, but hey, it just isn't much of a limousine. So when I had reached my destination it turned out, to my surprise, to be such heavy damage. But I managed to replace the tyre (remembering from the previous time that the spare is very awkwardly stored away in the back-end of the car) and all should be well. It was actually the new tyre; the garage hadn't fitted it properly. So that was an MOT in three trips to the garage! Not a very good score. But at least by the time I write this the tyre is already fixed, so I'll have a spare when I drive to the airport.

With all that I got quite into the spirit of changing tyres, so I think I'll go and see if a local scrap heap has a nice second-hand tyre to replace the last one which looks worn. A second-hand Fiesta tyre can't cost much, and it's a good idea to have some thread. Me in a car is dangerous enough as it is with good tyres! And after that I hope for no garage trips until this 20th birthday!

20 December 2013

Caving club Xmas meal

From a distance, the people gathering in the Crown in Hutton-le-Hole after a midweek dig might look like one club. But this is far from the truth! A one of our more illustrious diggers would be quite willing to elaborate that there are in fact two separate clubs: The North York Moors Superb and Skilled Caving Club, and the Scummy York Caving Club. As one might have guessed: there is some rivalrous banter between the two clubs. I am a member of the (allegedly scummy) York Caving Club. But both clubs celebrate together. And both clubs would also have their AGMs on that day.

When we got into the pub, only Chuck and Hannah were there, and Jerry, a NYMCC-associated chap I'd not met yet. He was an old mate of Rick though, and a somewhat strange character (more about that later), so I'd heard a fair bit about him. But soon the place filled up with other cavers, some of which accompanied by non-caving significant others, drinks were bought, and it started to look like a proper party.

By the time the starters came I was starving. It had been a long, food-poor day! But the mains sorted that out. And I even managed about half of my dessert: Christmas pudding with mustard. Daft, but interesting! And also a slight faux pas: it turned out to be a NYMCC tradition, not a YCC one...

After dinner we had the AGM. Matt had predicted it would take about 13 seconds. This time it was a bit more, though; one committee member had laid down his post, so we needed a replacement, and as the replacement had a post herself we needed a replacement for her too. That ended up being me. But that was all there was to it; it took some 2 minutes.

The NYMCC had much more elaborate habits. They were gathering for what seemed hours. They turned out to have an array of awards: one of the guys received the Golden Crowbar (he couldn't tell me what for), there was the Pink Karabiner for the person most likely to come out in the coming year, I saw Chris (who had lead the day's underground trips) get an award and I suppose that would have something to do with his impressive skill of finding information in archives about every hole in the ground ever. And then I was called forward! I got the award for Best Foreigner, as I had been the only non-UK citizen to have made it to the end of Shit Creek in the past year. I am proud of the NYMCC T-shirt I got! But it did make me very suspect in the eyes of the YCC. I already have a NYMCC sticker on my car, and I don't yet have a YCC T-shirt. And I had mustard on my Christmas pudding! I am being turned! There might be consequences.

And I got a taste of what happens to those that cross a caving club soon after: it was time for Jerry's trial. It seems he has one every year to decide if he is worthy of becoming a NYMCC member, and the verdict seems to traditionally be negative. This time he was accused of not meeting the probation demands, which boiled down to that he hadn't come caving. The jury (which was the YCC!) came to the unanimous conclusion he was guilty, and the judge gave him the choice: either strip down to his underwear and swim in the river on the other side of the road, before midnight, or become a member of YCC. It was about 10.30.

Jerry had another beer. Time passed. He had another one. Midnight came closer and closer. Nobody expected him to go for that swim. But some ten minutes before midnight he suddenly was nowhere to be seen. And then he re-emerged! Wearing only a shiny party hat. (He claimed to have only had one pair of pants with him, which he desired to keep dry.) He would do it!

Followed by more cameras than you can shake a stick  at he went to the river, stood in it, braced himself for the cold, lay down, was told off for not getting fully submerged, braced himself again, and went all the way in. And lost his party hat. He has finally made it. We went in for more celebrations...

I didn't want to spoil my Sunday, but I also didn't want to be too sensible at my own birthday, so I ended up drinking beer, wine, apple wine, sloe gin, and whisky, but tried to do all that slowly. And I was surprised; I had expected massive debauchery, but the first was in bed by 11, and most were in bed by 1. At that time I was still propping up the bar with one of the Richards, and gossiping about mutual acquaintances in the mine exploration world. He and Chris were, like me, essentially mine explorers, who don't mind a bit of cave on the side.

Earlier in the evening I had spread out my bed in the dining room, so as to make the process of going to bed more efficient, and when I decided to call it a day of all the beds, only mine was still empty. I tried to make myself at home without disturbing anyone (which meant doing without a pillow; someone had placed my bag out of reach, and I was afraid to step on people to get to it). I seem to have talked about caves to the bloke next to me... I don't even remember dreaming about caves.

I woke up with a very modest hangover. Not everybody was as fresh; several men were missing (they had ended up at the place of the chap who lives up the road), one guy had lost his jacket and another one his car keys. But jacket, blokes and car keys all were found back, and then it was time for all those living in the south to retreat to Pickering, in order to end the celebrations with a greasy breakfast. A worthy end to a daft birthday/caving club celebration. And let's hope 2014 will be a spiffing underground year!

18 December 2013

Birthday mine trip

More often than not, there's some Christmas celebration of sorts happening on my birthday. Last year it was the departmental Christmas lunch. it was a modest celebration, as I had already raised a glass at midnight. That lunch was a somewhat hung-over event for me...

This year it would be a Saturday. And the caving clubs would have their celebration on that day. It sounded like a special event. I thought it would be a good way of turning 38. During the day we would go underground, and then have a meal in the pub in which we always have a post-digging drink. We would be allowed to sleep on the floor, so nobody had to stay sober for a drive home. And we decided on an ironstone mine north of the North York Moors as the underground venue.

I started to feel birthdayish the day before. I was a bit dazed after a day of strenuous work, but so was Tom, and I managed to convince him to end the day with a pint in the village pub. That was good! And when I got home I found three birthday mailings on the doormat. Nice! And from 10PM the congratulations started to flow in online.

Then it was my actual birthday. I was picked up from home, and north we went. We were the last, so we quickly got into our kit and set off to the mine.

 At the entrance. Pic by Gary.

Chris, a relatively recent addition to the North York Moors caving club, but a already had a long underground history through other clubs, and who had organised this trip, had mentioned the mine suffers from bad air. But that was OK: he had a gas meter, so we could keep an eye on the oxygen levels and turn around when it got too iffy. I figured that would come in handy at the far recesses of the cave, but we were only some 50m from the entrance when it started beeping. Oh dear.

  Near the entrance. Pic by Gary.

We continued. The mine started as a tidy, brick-lined railway tunnel, but soon it started looking like a more conventional, rough-hewn mine level. The colours were nice, given that it was ironstone, but it was clear that the rock wasn't very solid, and whatever was on top of it was even worse. We didn't see much of the original ceiling; most of it had come down. But that was OK; it was a veritable maze of a place, so when one section looked iffy we just went elsewhere.

 Richard and me in riparian contemplation. Pic by Gary.

In some places we clambered over collapses, only to hear Chris shout "Oxygen at 15%! Back out!". And in others we tried to stop people from loitering under big, precariously loose ceiling slabs. But it was fun! And we all came out in good health. The only thing that didn't come out very well was Chris's trousers...

It was still early. We went to another mine; it announced itself through a great big hole where one part of the mine that had collapsed. We preferred to go in horizontally, a bit further on. This one had recently been flooded, and the water had deposited a thick layer of clay on the floor. Staggering through, inadvertently making a wealth of rude-sounding noises, and sometimes struggling to pull your feet out of the sucking mess was quite a lot of fun. 

Where have my boots gone? 

When we had reached dubious air and deep water we turned around. But this wasn't all yet! We also  looked inside a railway tunnel and a long culvert. The culvert was a good idea; it had thigh-deep clean water in it, which mitigated the effect of the previous mine. And after all that it was time for civilian clothes and a pint in the local pub. And then we would set off to Hutton, for the celebrations! I thought the day had already been quite good. Who else gets deep mud AND bad air AND thigh-deep water AND rickety ceilings on their birthday? In the company of muddy nutters? Not many! But this was only the beginning - the day would still be long!

17 December 2013

Pros and cons of a 7AM run

If my alarm goes at, say, 7AM my first thought tends not to be "hurray, let's jump out of bed, and straight onto the cold street". But quite often it is exactly what I do. Straight from bed into running kit, a sip of water, and then off I go. My body often isn't awake at all when I go for a run that early, and I often end up going really slowly, but at least I do get the exercise. And I have been rewarded for this self-discipline by some rather spectacular sunrises!

Sunrise over the Ouse

16 December 2013

3D: overrated

I'm not one for jumping on new technologies. I am one, though, for trying out things sooner or later, to have a reasonably well-founded opinion. Quite often the things I try without high expectations turn out to appeal to me as little as anticipated. I tried listening to Johnny Cash, I tried watching a rugby game, and neither I desire to do again. I had never seen a 3D movie, because these tend to be Hollywood blockbusters. A movie by Michael Haneke is not going to have significantly more impact in 3D than in 2D, but something with lots of action and CGI is. But I must admit, I was somewhat curious.

Then "Gravity" came out. And many of my friends loved it. And I know that means nothing, but it did occur to me that if you would want to see one 3D movie and one only, it might as well be one playing out in space, as it is space that you get extra. And Tom hadn't seen it either, so a plan was born. We'd go see it! Another PhD student joined.

It was interesting to see the effect. It does add something to a scene of George Clooney bobbing around a space station. And the imagery was amazing! But the story wasn't. (Spoiler alert!!) Being the sole survivor of a space accident is spectacular enough for me. More than enough. But then making it to another space station, which ends up a heap of scrap metal, and moving to yet ANOTHER space station, which ends up as some cinders, is overdoing it. And then making it to Earth anyway, but landing in a lake, into which the capsule sinks down without delay (would they really design them like that?), making it out of the capsule, sinking like a brick, managing to get out of the space suit, and then almost getting entangled in an aquatic plant before - of course - making it to the surface alive is really overdoing it. And it doesn't help if they insert a sob story about a dead child, which is entirely improbably as I don't believe NASA would send people with such evident traumas into space. The characters stayed paper-thin, and the explosions and other potential causes of death just kept on coming.

Quite a lot of this movie wasn't very likely but needed to be able to collect this heap of threats, but there was the added annoyance caused by the trade-off between credibility and the opportunity to have a Hollywood actress show some skin. Astronauts wear more than a vest and pants under their space suits. But you can't if you're Sandra Bullock.

I'm glad I now know what the fuss is all about, but it's not for me! I want to see "Amour" next...

15 December 2013


The week before I had come to Durham to split the cores we had taken a few weeks before that. But splitting, logging and wrapping is quite a job. There was no time for sampling! But the good thing about being based in York is that you can just hop on the train on an ad-hoc basis and come back to do that later. York-Durham is only some 50 minutes. So I did! And I finished the sampling I had intended to do. And when I was done I walked back to the station, samples in my bag. And Durham was being very pretty in the moonlight. Soon I might find myself in the York labs, sieving sediment until I am blue in the face!

The cathedral under the moon

The castle looming over the river

12 December 2013

Time for repair yet again

Don't combine tents and crampons. I once did! Bad idea. I was on my way to a glacier course; we had to scramble up a ~500m scree slope to get there. And backpacks are overloaded and heavy when you have to bring full camping kit, full glacier kit and food for the better part of a week. How exactly it went wrong I don't remember, but I ended up with a crampon tied to someone's bag ripping through the bag of my tent, which was tied to my bag. Thank heavens it only went through the bag! It could have been the tent itself. It wasn't, and I had a great time up there at the glacier.

Over 4 years later I went on a hike with my Dutch friends, on the North York Moors. That tear was still in my tent bag! And that time I did something unfortunate; I made things worse. Instead of just a linear tear I now had a T-shaped one. Not good. Time to snap into action! What to repair it with? It needs to be strong, light material that doesn't absorb too much water. Hmm!

Then I had an idea. My sleeping bag liner was damaged too! Due to some excessive tugging when trying to get comfortable. It's made of silk! That should do. I cut off the sliver that had been half-separated, ironed it and used it as a patch. That liner will still be big enough with that bit missing! The patch was even big enough to also repair another tear in the sleeping bag liner. And it was a bit tedious to sew the patches into position, but hey, it's done now, and repairs are highly gratifying. At least for me! Hence, perhaps, the high number of repair posts (like this one and this and this and this) on this blog...

Not sure when I'll need my tent again. But I'll make sure to enjoy its intact bag!

10 December 2013

Back in the race!

I run a lot faster when people are cheering me on. A good way of getting fitter is making sure I don't run alone, but with other competitors. So I found a race not too far away, in south Leeds: the Leeds 10k Christmas Challenge, and decided to go for it! It was a modest 10k, partly off-road; a nice one to restart my racing career with.

Ready to race again!

When I walked into the stadium that held the start and finish I smiled. I like the racing vibe! I chatted a bit with the other competitors, and then we were off. We were soon running along a railroad. And I heard a whistle! And lo and behold, I saw a puff of steam rise from the trees. By the time the steam train passed we were running in the opposite direction, uphill, over a slippery path, so looking back wasn't recommended. But I hoped it would return! And it would; it came past chugging backwards while I was walking back to my car.

People warming up in the stadium
Along the way

The race was up to a plateau, then three sloping loops, and then back to the stadium. It felt hard! I clearly haven't been training very long. And my usual route doesn't have any slopes (as York doesn't). But I hope I'll find more races like that, and then I'll get better!

Bonus view on the local heritage railway!

I finished in 56:09.  That's almost the same time as it took me to do the Totnes 10k; which was also after little training and partially off-road. Let's see if I can repeat the trajectory after that race; the next one after that, another similar race, only took me 51:33! At least I should be able to improve on the ranking within my category; I had never been as bad as I had been here. But I had never been in such an undiscriminating category: "people under 40". I had been lumped with 20-year-old men! I don't expect that to happen again...

09 December 2013

Storm damage repaired!

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It seems. What the storm damages will be improved on! I had already noticed my bike roof needed some improvements; the plastic was attached to the wood in too few places which put too much strain on these parts of the plastic, and it flapped in the wind which caused quite a racket. So now the storm had moved dealing with that up the to do list I made version 2.0: with a rope weaving its way through all undulations, and with added scourers as noise mitigators! I think it's more spiffing than ever before, in spite of the damage to the plastic sheets...

New and improved!

08 December 2013

Storm damage

I took down the plants from the ledge. It looks really nice to have plants on the ledge int he courtyard, but at times of heavy winds they come down, whether due to me taking preventive action, or due to the wind. I had heard on the radio there was a storm warning, so I knew if I didn't take them down I would be faced with a lot of pot shards are scattered soil.

No shards greeted me when I came home. The prevention had worked! But the wheelie bin was lying on its side, the lid had blown off of one of my recycling bins, and the roof that keeps my bikes dry was no more. I'd have to repair that! Try to make a more wind-proof version. I already have ideas of how!

The sorry remnants of my bike shed

At least that roof is rather easy to repair. I biked along some more serious damage on my way home that day! During my run I had already had to clamber over a half a tree that had come down, but on the way home I encountered an entire tree that had draped itself elegantly over the cycle path. I won't be the only one doing repair work this weekend!

06 December 2013

Cutting the cores

We hadn't seen the sediment we just had spent several thousand pound on. The drillers produced closed, opaque PVC liner with the sediment in it. We'd have to split the cores using a core cutter in order to see what we had!

Durham has a fine core cutter, and it has fridge space (quite unlike York), so it was Durham-ward the cores ventured, and where I followed a while later. We started with the core on which not as much depended. We did have to tweak the machine a bit; the saws and blades doing the cutting have to be adjusted rather precisely to get the desired result. We had it nailed by the time we started on the master core.

A perk of having to come to Durham: it's about as beautiful as York!

The sediments are beautiful! They are just what we had hoped. We had to use an actual band-saw to cut through the peat section; peat sounds very soft and cuttable, but this is old, compacted peat, and it is rock hard and flaky. But in the end we had a whole pile of beautifully split, photographed, described and wrapped core halves. Success! By the time we had that the day was done and I had to go home, so I'll come back later to sub-sample them. But at least now we know what it is we'll sample.

We even managed to clean up the mud, the wax, the black water, and everything else that had been dripping out of our cores. Those who remember the pictures of the fieldwork won't be surprised there was a fair amount of oozing going on in that lab! But everything that leaks and drips is now gone. My return to sub-sample should be a very civilized affair...

The core with the crucial contact in it! Which happened to coincide with the water table...

04 December 2013

The runner is back

I'm a bit of a jo-jo runner. I start, and then there's some reason or other to stop. Then I feel bad about it, and am embarrassed about my lack of ability to do something like walk up a hill with caving kit on and a rope bag over my shoulder. So then I start again!

I blogged about my first York run. I lasted a while! But let it slip again. And while time passed my established route, with most of it on grass, had become less suitable. In autumn grassy paths turn into puddles of mud. And while I don't mind these in general, I don't prefer to run through them, as I do not fancy a face-plant during which I bugger my knee, which is what I am afraid will happen when I do.

So I picked it up again, but on asphalt and pavement this time. I tried a few routes and found one of pleasing length (6.5 km), quietness (almost entirely away from motorised traffic) and good looks. And plenty of opportunity to duck into side paths to see what's there! And it's all on hardened surfaces, so you don't end up slithering over mud. And I got so much into it I'm considering running a race next week! There don't seem to be many in this area per time unit, so maybe I should seize this opportunity. Maybe the runner is now back for a while...

I start out along the river, in the direction of town

View from the railway bridge

The Ouse further upstream

The winter dike

It was a beautiful, slightly hazy morning

I unexpectedly found this patch of wild land behind the dike

03 December 2013

New toy

I thought it was my internet signal. It wasn't. It was my little netbook! These are fine for doing a bit of text processing and spreadsheeting around, but not for proper computing. And squeezing someone's voice through an internet cable is proper computing. So I couldn't Skype my mother, or anybody else for that matter, from home. And that sucked. And doing that in the office is only a good idea if you're alone, and now with two postdocs, one PhD student and a guest academic in the office, that doesn't happen very often. Not good!

And then I went on fieldwork. I didn't want to have to twiddle my thumbs, so I inquired if I could perhaps borrow a university laptop. On my desk in my office one finds (very befitting in a way) a desktop. And I could borrow one! And being able to work away from the office was a revelation (yes I know, I'm a luddite.) And during the weekend between fieldwork and back to the office I had a proper machine at home. And with that thing I COULD Skype my mum! So now I knew what to do. Buy another laptop! A proper one, this time. So I did. I have. This text is typed on it.

Why didn't I do this earlier? Maybe because I tend to adapt myself to the world rather than adapt the world to me. But sometimes that's not the best strategy. So now I did something uncharacteristic, and will be able to escape the office a bit more. I can log in remotely to the University network, and I can probably get quite some of the software on this machine. I can phone my mother from my living room and take a computer with me on trips! Bring it on! The luddite has bought an industrial mill and already loves it!

02 December 2013

Finding the shortcut

I was late. I had had a work meeting close to home in the afternoon, so I had left my car at home. When the meeting was over I biked home, changed, plonked my bag with caving kit in the boot, and started the car. And drove away? No; waited forever for the fog to release the windscreen so I could see something. Annoying! Then I spent a long time in a traffic jam. And only then I reached the dig.

I got into my stuff and went down. We were working on trying to cut off a rather unpleasant cold wet and sloppy loop from the cave entrance. If you see the cave survey, you do see the frustrating "U" you have to negotiate. And the beginnings of a cut-off. So that's where we were headed.

My job was having Matt hand me buckets of mud through a narrow passage, and turn them into sandbags (mudbags) with one of the chaps. We try to use these to stop the cave silting up all the time. I was quite content with that situation. Time to leisurely catch up! While turning into a mud golem. And suddenly we heard "he's through!" - I hadn't expected that in weeks! But there it was. So we all crawled through the new passage. Nice and comfortable! And then we turned back; having broken through it had automatically become pub time.

Me showing off a new asset: a balaclava! Keeps my hair out of the mud...

When I came out I was immediately engulfed by the heat of the big fire the men had going at the surface. Soon I exchanged that for the somewhat eerie walk to the river; it's a bit of a distance, and it was foggy, and the owls were especially vocal that night. And the river was swollen; good washing power for my minging suit. Next week we can go back all the way to the end! Rather spiffing.

30 November 2013

On being old

Thirty-seven is not old! I can imagine a large percentage of the readers of this blog indignantly saying just that when they read the title of this post. And whoever thinks this indeed is right, of course. But one judges by comparison. And when I moved to York I was immediately welcomed within the circle of the first-year PhD students. And they are the best friends to have! But I am more than 1.5 times as old as almost all of them. And that makes me sometimes consider age.

Does age matter? Well yes, one changes with age. Is there something wrong with having friends of a rampantly different age? No. Does it sometimes complicate things? Yes. For instance; sometimes I have to be boring and old and leave a pub at a reasonable time; not only does my body react to alcohol a bit more than it did some 15 years ago, but I also feel the breath of time in my neck. Life’s too short to spend a morning hung-over! And I am quite aware of my contract being rather short; I need to get myself another job. I have to publish, to network, to develop my science communication skills! And in order to do that I can’t squander too much time in a pub, and I sure can’t squander my time by feeling miserable in bed until 2PM. And I’m not saying my York friends are a bunch of party animals with total disregard for the future; one of them already has a postdoc-like working schedule, with late evenings and working weekends and all. But overall I notice I sometimes can’t keep up with the social life.

Sometimes it’s not them running ahead, but allowing me to slow down; I am a middle-aged woman living like a glorified student. And people of my age often float into a world of mortgages, children, lease cars and whatnot. And I don’t want to go there (yet?) and it’s nice to have friends that feel the same way. And proper grown-ups with permanent jobs and good salaries also often fall into two traps; one is of taking things for granted, and the other is the sense of entitlement. My uncertainty about the future already quite deals with the first one, and I don’t think I’m too susceptible to the second, but having lots of friends on the bottom rung of Academia helps keep things in perspective.

Age is not only how much time you’ve had to develop your career, or how hung-over seven pints make you.  It also gives you time for contemplation. And I sure benefit from thinking things over. When I look at my mid-twenties friends, I sometimes compare them with my younger self. And I think every single one of them is more balanced than I was at that age. I much prefer being 37 to being 24. As far as I am concerned, things just keep getting better! I have matured mentally, but I still look like a twenty-something (which regularly annoys me) and I’m a stronger runner than I ever was (if I may average out the last few years), so I don’t suffer from the effects of aging one hears a lot of complaining about. I only get the benefits! And what else did I get? Lovely friends! What more could one wish for. Oh yes, that next job...

26 November 2013

Wales with the PCG

I go to South Wales to cave with the Yorkies, and I go to North Wales to cave with the Plymouthians. That doesn’t make particularly much sense but it is the way it is! I like North Wales a lot, with its big slate mines and amazing Snowdonian landscapes. And when the PCG would travel north to go there I saw a nice opportunity to catch up. And Hugh saw that even more; he only lives 2 hours from Mt Snowdon. So on a Friday I left work early, biked to the station with my enormously heavy backpack containing all my caving kit to the station, and conquered a seat. In Liverpool I found Hugh and his car, and off we were! We had planned to eat on the road, but we missed all the potential venues until we approached Llanberis, our goal, so we phoned ahead. The others turned out to be in a curry restaurant, so we joined. It was good to see everybody again!

After dinner we went to the hut and made ourselves comfortable. Rick distributed copies of his newest tome “Devon Great Consols – a mine of mines” – most of us had ordered a copy. (Scroll down on this page for a look) DGC is indeed a mine of mines! We also tried to decide on where we would go the next day; there were some people eager to do Cwmorthin, and some preferred a lead mine Rick came up with. I had visited the former only in September, so I was keen on something new. So lead it would be! None of us had been there, but we had a good grid reference. So the next morning, after a planet-sized breakfast, we jumped into two cars and were on our way. 

We find the parking lot without problems, and then also found the entrance with ease. So in we went! The idea was to go in, and then soon drop down to the next level down, so we walked along the level. We could often see a gaping lode above us. And below us. I wondered if we were delicately balancing on a false floor in between, but research afterwards showed they were two different lodes, and we were walking on rock most of the time. Good! What was less good was that by the time we reached the first opportunity to drop down we lost the first man. Alex had a knee injury, and the clambering over collapses proved too much for his damaged physique. So he turned around, and we moved on. The level just went and went and went! Several times we thought we’d reached the end, but most of these times we had just encountered a collapse one could manoeuvre past. 

The gated entrance

The level with its rails 

A movable ore chute we found - I had never seen anything like that.

Along the way, we also found a ladderway up. I checked it out; the ladders were a bit rickety but it was worth risking that. On top I found a winch, a crane-like construction, and an enormous flatrod. Amazing! But there were people waiting for me below, so I took two hurried pictured and went back down. 
A slightly hazy picture of the winch and the flatrod

Near the end we also found a ladderway down; this just went and went. Sixty metres deeper we hit the lower level, but it was largely flooded. We weren’t too keen to spend the limited time we had (we had Alex waiting for us!) wading through deep cold water, so we went back up. On the way back the others tried the ladderway up too; I used the time to do some photography. 

Self portrait 1

 Self portrait 2

As we had all been wearing full SRT kit, and were lugging ropes around, we decided to drop down to the lower level where we had left Alex after all. The pitch lead to a steep rubble slope, and down to a next pitch. When Hugh went down I saw the rope rubbing, and decided to stay above. We had to get back out soon anyway! When Richard came back up I saw the rubbing only happened when the person in the rope was almost down, so I could have dropped safely. Oh well! Next time. 

 An abandoned waggon

We struggled back up the rubble slope, and went out. A bit later we found Alex asleep in his car. That was good; those who are asleep aren’t bored. The next stop was Pete’s Eats, where we all (except Dave who was feeling woozy) had a hearty meal, after which we retreated to the hut and exchanged stories. 

Another item on the agenda was tweaking newest Dave’s SRT kit so as to make it easier for him to work it. We started out trying to make his foot loop the right length, but later we found out that there were bigger issues; a convenient beam he could hang from showed that if he hangs in his ascender and doesn’t hold on to anything with his hands, he hangs upside down. Oh dear! That would indeed make rope work rather tricky. A lot of faffing later he was hanging more or less diagonal. Not perfect yet but doable. Result!

The next day I wanted to be home in time for the next ceilidh – Abi would be playing! But that meant preferably getting the 15.22 train from Liverpool. And thus leaving Llanberis around 1PM. That does not leave a long day for underground antics! We decided to go with the injury crew, who would visit “the Electric Mountain”; a hydropower plant hidden inside the mountain that holds Dinorwic slate mine, and nowadays the National Slate Museum. It was a bit of a disappointment as far as I was concerned; you got the same information fed about four times, while only seeing a limited part of the plant. And one can imagine one doesn’t want tourist swarming an entire power plant, but at least the level of repetition could have been a bit lower. And then it was already time to say goodbye! Who knows, maybe the southerners come up north more often…