28 June 2013

Seamus Heaney

You can't always judge for yourself. There is not enough time. And when you leave it to other people to judge something, then why not the Nobel Prize committee. Just to name something; I know little of poetry. I do own a collection of poems by Wislawa Szymborska (in translation), which I have read cover to cover, and enjoyed greatly. And her talents had earned her a Nobel Prize. So when Seamus Heaney would appear on the Festival of Ideas, I trusted the Nobel judgment, and got me a ticket. Not entirely at random; the Guardian had featured a long article on Heaney in the "review" pages some time ago, and I had liked what I had read. So now I would have the man himself read some more to me.

Heaney in the Central Hall of the University of York

A glorious introduction from the chairman taught me that his name wasn't pronounced "seam-us" but "shame-us". As I said; I don't know much about poetry. Then the laureate himself took the stage. And this man had about 50 years of poetry to choose from, and about an hour to spend. We would only scratch the surface! But how well did he do it. He turned out to me a most gentle-spoken man, with plenty of patience to explain to the audience what some obscure words meant, and what sagas some of his poems were inspired by. I won't reproduce any poems here as I think it would breach copyright, but there is a few on the wikipedia page.

When time was up he took a seat and got ready for questions. I was wondering what on Earth one could ask. But the first question was an immediate hit: "is there a poem you really wish you would have written but still haven't?". He didn't hesitate. "Other people have written those poems!" A next question was received well too. "My brother had to study your poems at school, and he described them as "death and potatoes". Do you perhaps have two or three different words to replace these?" Here he laughed. "Pure genius!" There were more questions, but I stuck to that one, and when it was over I bought his book "North". I'll report back! I hope I agree with that jest...

27 June 2013

New lamp

My very first trip with the YCC made it clear: I needed a new lamp. I used 16 batteries on that trip, and if it would have taken any longer I would have had to switch to my spare light, which only had the batteries that were in it, and no spares. I need to make sure I can do a long trip without running out of power! It's clearly feasible; all the other guys managed. So when I got access to the club website I asked for advice on the forum. And there I received the recommendation to buy a Petzl Duo 14 LED, and customize it with a ready-made adaptation set, and then regard someone called Bob as my uncle. These customization thingies seem to be easy to install, and make these lights much brighter. So I decided to go with that!

The original lamp

I found a Petzl Duo on eBay, and it arrived soon. I compared it with my old light; not anywhere near as bright, but hey, this was before customization, and also, that energy efficiency needs to come from somewhere. A few days later, the adaptation set came, and then it was time for me to put that into place. A bit scary; I have never customized a headlight before! But the instructions were straightforward. First thing; open the lamp. Hmm. The website itself says, after three pages: "Invariably, the biggest problem is getting your Duo open in the first place, which can be challenging if it has been together for some time and been used as a caving lamp. Tyre fitters hands are a bonus for this task. We didn't like to mention that at the start (-:". Hmm. Tyre fitters hands? I have none! Even though the lamp was new I didn't manage to make it move as much as a millimeter.

The module

What to do? Find yourself a bloke, of course! By coincidence there would be a YCC pub night a few days later, and that would be brimming with strong men. So I made sure to bring the lamp! The first man to venture too close to escape my distress was Matt. He hardly had to make an effort. The worst was over now!

The lamp, now open

Fitting the module in then really IS easy. you remove the light bulbs and LEDS, you click the module into position, and you're ready to go. Piece of cake!

The finished product

The next time we go underground will be in early July. I look forward to play-testing this thing! I have no clue how these modules work, but they seem to be the best thing since sliced bread. I'll see!

25 June 2013

Wedding of Mark and Karel

A long, long time ago, I was doing my PhD in Amsterdam. I was just one in a long list. Slowly, those who started before me finished, and new faces arrived. One chap starting after me was a geographer named Mark. And two others were Emma and Stefan. I got along well with them. Mark and Emma even came to visit me when I lived in Plymouth. And Stefan I had later met in Bern, at a conference.

Mark was already in a relationship when he came to the VU, and that stayed that way, so at the first departmental Christmas do I also met his boyfriend Karel. He worked as a jeweler; he had come straight from the Millionaires' Fair to the christmas party. He was still in his work outfit: a white blazer. That intimidated me a bit. Luckily he turned out to be a nice chap nonetheless. And normally more inclined to wear T-shirts...

When I was already living in England I saw on Facebook they were getting engaged. Lovely! And then they were entering "ondertrouw"; something like the banns. They were not only getting married; it looked like they were going to do it soon! And then Mark mailed me to ask for my address... and indeed, an invitation came in the mail!

England is some distance away, and Mark didn't seem to really expect me to come, but England is only one flight away, so that's reasonable for something as unique as a wedding. I know, some people marry many times, but Mark and Karel were clearly being thorough about it. They had been together for yonks!

So on a Sunday in June I got into my wedding-associated dress, then into the train, and only some 20m away from the church in which the ceremony would take place I got into my heels. I have learned from the previous wedding: bring a bag that's big enough to keep an extra pair of shoes in, otherwise you'll be hurting for days! Then I came to the church, and started looking for the right door in. I crossed two well-dressed young men; I wondered if they came for the same thing. After having seen all doors and still not found an obvious one for the wedding, and with them still walking around looking confused, I asked. They were indeed also wedding guests! Together we just rang a doorbell, and were let in through the kitchen and hallways of the church. And reached the nave. We were early; nothing particularly wedding-esque was as yet going on.
 Interior of the Old Church

I had a walk around. This was the Old Church; it is still used for services, but also for things such as exhibitions. And today it would do both. The wedding service would be in the nave, with the World Press Photo exhibition surrounding it, in the wings.

 World Press Photo was on too

When I was looking for a cloakroom I saw a sign "access to the tower is at one's own risk". Access to the tower? I didn't know we had it! I surely was going to try that. Plenty of time. I clambered up, in my heels, and after three sets of stairs I heard voices. It turned out I was reaching the bell-ringing level, where a seasoned bell-ringer was instructing his apprentices for the day. He heard me come up, told me I wasn't really supposed to be there, but if I sat down on a bench and didn't get in the way I was welcome. They were about to ring the bells for the wedding...

First the bell symbolising "love" was rung for one minute. Then the other bells (one was "hope"; one must have been "faith". And the other "luck"?) would join, and altogether they would ring for another seven minutes. I felt privileged to witness that. In the bell tower of the Old Church of all places! And then I had to get my arse downstairs for the service!

Ringing the bells for love

I had left the pews empty, but during the tolling they had filled up. I saw Emma, and joined her. And after a while, a choir walked past, followed by the happy grooms. They were beautiful! But they ended up seated out of my sight for the church service. And I'm not really one for church services. I contended myself with looking at the church...

After more than an hour we all moved to another part of the church, where Mark and Karel would exchange vows. Mark started; he had a lump in his throat the size of  house. His voice was all over the place! So sweet! Karel kept his cool a bit more. It was very touching. And after that, and some more singing, suddenly Karel was handing out holy bread, while Mark joined the choir. Normally he's in it!

Mark and Karel about to make their vows

I let the wine and bread pass me by. I'm happy to sit through a church service if that is what a marrying couple wants to take place, but I steer clear of too much participation. Luckily this was a very tolerant service; the godless were welcome too. And then it was time for coffee, cake, a sandwich, and then Emma and me had to get ourselves to the station; the reception was a bit west of Amsterdam. On the way to the station she said "look left!"; she's been living in the UK for a while too, she knows what effect it has...

When we came off the platform there was another smartly dressed man standing there. It was Stefan! He had come to pick us up with his car. We had had no idea! That was very nice of him. Together we found the estate, and walked up the lane. After a while we saw Mark. He and Karel were waiting for the wedding photographer. And we weren't supposed to be there. We'd missed the signs to the orangerie, where the reception would take place. But it did give us a chance to kiss them!

Emma and me in front of the reception venue. Picture by Stefan.

After a cup of tea we were told the newlyweds were on their way, and asked to form an honour guard for them to pass through. Once inside, Mark would speech, and then they would open the champagne bottles. Mark made a bit of a mess, but hey, he's a geographer. And then we all drank to the new couple!

Opening the champagne bottles; success for Karel.

Mark managed to at least get some into the glasses (notice the puddle!)

At a wedding, you rarely have time to actually talk to the newly wedded couple, and this was no exception. I managed to get Mark's attention for half a minute; that was it. But it was special to have been there and to witness this! It was a beautiful day, and I hope they look back on it with pleasure, for the rest of a long and happy married life! To Mark and Karel!

24 June 2013

Festival of Ideas

I came from the South, and went North. And two weeks later, a festival started in my new hometown, largely taking place in the buildings of my new employer, with as its theme “North and South". It was the York Festival of Ideas. What a welcome!

I found out when I was waiting at the information desk, wanting to sort out the issues with my key card. As the person in the queue before me seemed to have a rather complicated query, I picked up some leaflets. It listed some talks; I was attracted to one about local lunatic asylums. 

When I checked online I found out that that one was sold out. But there turned out to be so much more than the talks from that flyer! I figured I should have another look at what was on offer exactly. 

And then a chap walked into my office with a spare ticket for a Festival of Ideas talk on astronomy. That was fate making a point. I went! It was quite interesting. And then I decided to get a ticket too for a talk on local hero/villain Dick Turpin. (He had gone from South to North too!) I had some very vague memories of having watched (fragments of) a TV series about the chap as a small child. Decades later I had found out this had been loosely based on a historical figure. And having moved to the place of his death, I figured it was time to separate man and myth. I must say, the romantic hero from the book (“Rookwood” by William Harrison Ainsworth) and the TV series based on that are a much nicer chap than the properly unpleasant character the real guy was. 

The fictional Dick Turpin

And then there were talks about Antarctica; one report of an attempt to drill a subglacial lake, and a talk about life in the snow, and why it matters and how you detect it, and a talk about the chemistry of snow. I couldn’t make it to the Arctic talks (North AND South, after all.) I like this festival! It offered such a variety of general knowledge. And there was often some wine to be enjoyed before and after the talks. And the Polar talks were on the East campus – I hadn’t been there yet, and it was nice to have a look there too. And you get to know some colleagues who go too a little bit better. 

And it’s far from over: I have a ticket for a talk on how the English North is depicted in literature. Has it perhaps been wrongly depicted as grim? And I have a ticket for Seamus Heaney. I never read his poetry, but what better way to start than have him read it to me himself? And I want to go to some of the festival exhibitions with Hugh, when he comes visit me over the weekend. And who knows what I’ll ad hoc! I hope they do this every year…

 Seamus Heaney

20 June 2013

New microscope

I have been working with microscopes and foraminifera since 2001. I never had a microscope that allowed me to zoom in as much as I wanted. If you see a foram, your hand almost automatically goes to the knob that adjusts the zoom levels. And tries to rotate it past its furthest point. Is it just me? No. If I show someone else a foram, I see their hand make that very same motion.

It became worse when I was in St Andrews for a foram workshop; if I showed an expert a foram I struggled to identify, on a microscope equivalent to what I used myself, the expert would typically say "I have no idea what that is, I need higher magnification". And one expert had his microscope there; that indeed was a better model! I was envious.

And then Roland accepted that job in York. And with the job came budget to buy a microscope. So we figured out what that impressive microscope in Scotland had been, and what the modern equivalent of that was. And in order to do that, we were visited by a representative. He didn't have any microscopes with him, but be told us of the best of the best. We were very impressed. Until he gave the price. We then decided to go for a simpler model. That disappointed the chap. Suddenly the price was negotiable! And some mailing up-and-down later we received confirmation that somewhere in July, our snazzy new microscope would be delivered.

That day came. The microscope arrived less than an hour earlier than the man who would assemble it! He installed it on my desk in about an hour, and then we could have a look.

 The beast

For looking AT forams, this thing was clearly the bee's knees. But for looking FOR forams, which involves rummaging through a sample, it clearly wasn't. Our sample trays only just fir underneath its objective! No space at all left for browsing through the sediment with a seeker. And we need that.

 The amount of space you have for sample manipulation, with a pencil for scale

The gentleman then showed us the specifications of different objectives, and different oculars, that we can have instead of what's now next to me on the desk. With different parts we will probably be able to get more rummaging space, while keeping sufficient magnification. In early July he'll be back! And when he leaves, I think I'll finally have a microscope that does what I hope it does! Exciting...

19 June 2013

In Liverpool

It had already been six weeks since Hugh moved north. I heard all the stories, but he’s not such a hysterical broadcaster of his life as I am, so I had to construct an image of his new home in my mind, based on verbal information. And that was fine for the first few weeks, but that was it! I missed him, and wanted to see for myself in what place he had landed. I had only been in Liverpool once, and that was quite a brief trip. So in my first weekend in the north I unpacked. In the second I went to Wales. And on the third I went to Liverpool! (Yes, Suzanne Vega fans: on a Sunday!)

I got into the train, with my hot flask and the newspaper, and had a nice two hours, looking at the sunny countryside rolling past. I especially liked the northern limb of the Peak District I trundled through. And when I got to Liverpool Lime Street I followed Hugh’s advice and got a cab to his place. That would turn out to be a wise choice!

Hugh had a plan. He first showed me his modern and spacious apartment. Then he served me a cup of coffee. And then he stuffed a CAMRA pub guide into my handbag, and we were off. We would first go to campus, where I saw his office. Then we’d go to St. George's Hall. Unfortunately, there was a ceremony (probably a wedding) going on, and he couldn’t show me the view we had come for. But we tried!
We wandered around some more (luckily the pub guide came with a map; six weeks isn’t enough to get to know a city like Liverpool, especially if you spend some of these six weeks rather far away from it, like in Japan), and had lunch in a pub. That gave us energy to wander around the docks with their monumental buildings, like the Royal Liver Building. Very nice! We also wandered past the Museum of Liverpool Museum, the Albert Dock, and the Church of St Luke, which isn't a church anymore, and which at that moment was clearly in use as a concert hall. Such things are difficult to keep secret in a building without windows and a roof. And then it was time for a pint. If only to give my feet a break. 

The Royal Liver Building with Hugh in front of it

 The Albert Dock

Hugh knew a pub where they had proper Australian beer, so that was the one we headed for. But they had sold out of the stuff! We settled for American beer. And then we walked to our last landmark: the imposing mass of Liverpool Cathedral. What a Moloch! But the gate was closed. Another wedding! We couldn't get in. Pesky newlyweds all over town. Oh well. That cathedral looks like it isn't in a hurry to go anywhere, so I might see it from the inside on another trip west. 

 The angry-looking cathedral

And then it was time for another pint, and then dinner. And then some whisky at home, and bed! The next morning my alarm would go early, to get me back to York at not too late a time. It was not a long visit, but it was very nice! We had six weeks to catch up on, and an entire city to explore. And we did quite a good job on it, methinks! And in two weeks I can reciprocate!

18 June 2013

Railway Museum

I had had in mind that my first underground trip in Yorkshire would be Gaping Gill, on my third Saturday. It's a bit of an intimidating venue, but I looked forward to it! Unfortunately, it seems to be a good weather cave; with too much rain, there's a risk of flooding. And I don't think the entire place has any chance of flooding; too bloody big. But as far as I know, you abseil down a waterfall to get in, and I can imagine that can get unpleasant when it is pissing down. And that holds for the way up too! And, unfortunately, the week before that trip, it rained quite a lot. The trip was cancelled.

That gave me a day off. Good! I still had plenty of chores to do. So I did them. And then it was 3PM, and I figured I might sneak in my first small exploration of the National Railway Museum. Two hours is not anywhere near enough to see all of it, but I live nearby, and it's free, so I intend to pop in for an hour every now and then, rather than do all of it in one exhaustive go. So this was my first chance!

The first train you see when you come in

The inside of a steam train

It's beautiful! And impressive! They have more trains than you can shake a stick at. And I have only seen so much. I suspect I might sometimes have guests who are interested in having a look there: I can't wait to come back!

17 June 2013

Settling in further

The last time I mentioned what the state of my integration here at university was I had managed the basics: office, desk, computer, login, key. But things are moving on: I've now moved my office stuff into my office. That helps! it means it's more operational, and it looks nice too, with some plants. And it had speakers now, and my tablet. And I finally found my headset and webcam - I can Skype again! Very good! And on top of that I managed to get my computer connected to a printer, I was told the code of the copier, and I conquered some fridge space for my samples. Not bad! And my Plymouth account is now closed, it seems; I can't seem to log in anymore.And I hope to get a microscope on today!

Beside the technicalities, the social aspect matters too; I'm starting to get to know people now. Luckily there's a group of friends here, mainly PhD student who have lovingly adopted me. So I have these to have lunch and coffee with. And I even had my first on campus beer; one of the guys came in with the message that he and another chap were going to a talk, and they had a spare ticket; it sounded like a good opportunity, and I accepted. And between work and talk, we went for a beer in the campus pub. A rather nice one!

Outside university things are moving on too: I have an agreement with my old letting agency on my old apartment, so I get the remainder of my deposit back, and that's that. And I have secured myself a GP here, and I have a blood donation appointment coming up. I still need to find me a dentist, but there's no hurry. Things are moving on! I'm getting Yorkish!

14 June 2013

Courtyard put to use

I feel sorry for the cleaners that by now will have dealt with my old place in Plymouth. Because of the tight logistics I handed the keys back as soon as the apartment was empty; they'd sort out a cleaner and have the place made ready for the next tenant. But I have been coming home late time after time, with a bag full off minging caving kit, and nothing better than the bath to clean it in. So my kitchen was often full of dripping overalls, socks, knee pads, and whatnot. I once had to unblock the bath drain. And I very often had to remove the ochre from the bath. The kitchen floor still bore witness of that when I left. As did the kitchen walls. But all's changed now!

I now have a courtyard! And I really looked forward to just hanging my kit out there. It's so much easier. And I suppose it's alright; I put my kit-dangle-furniture-thing underneath the bicycle roof, so I won't end up with dripping wet kit at the wrong moment, and I suppose people are not likely to break into my courtyard in order to steal a dirty boiler suit and some equally dirty, and generally rather worn, other pieces of kit.

So that was how it worked out! I came back from the Welsh trip, and I just hung everything outside, keeping the kitchen clean! Very nice! I like this place.

13 June 2013

The day after the day before

I had been warned there might not be too much enthusiasm for an underground trip on the second day of our weekend away. And my enthusiasm had drained with my batteries; I had managed to charge one set, which is one comfortably lit hour. And we were in South Wales, which is also beautiful above ground! And the weather was nice. So we all decided to stay at the surface.

The two couples decided to go for a run. And the others planned a walk. One of the guys had a nice route in mind, and with three cars we set off to its start. I was in the first car. After a few minutes the phone rang. It turned out to be Kevin, who was last in line in his shiny new rental car. He had driven it off the road! We immediately knew where he'd have done that. There was an impossibly sharp and steep junction near the hut; that must have been it. And it was.

It turned out Kevin had used his handbrake to safely negotiate this turn. But it was an electronic handbrake, and the car's computer had decided at some crucial point the handbrake had to come off. And hop, off went Kevin into the fence. Luckily it held; the slope below it was steep! But the car was lying on its bellyplate on the curb.
 Oh dear.

Our first attempt was phoning the rental company, but they didn't asnwer the phone. Then we went to plan B: trying to get Mountain Rescue involved. We had seen their vehicle just down the road. Such a Landie could pull the car back onto the road! But the team members were far away on a hill. Bummer.

Somewhere along the way a chap passed us on a bike; bike nor chap were the newest model. He looked at the situation, and said in a Welsh accent you could build large buildings on "ah, a modern car!" That summed it up.

Plan C was asking for help from a guy who had stayed in the hut. He had a Landie! He even had a hand-winch in his car. Unfortunately, the rental car had much more friction with the curb than the Landie had with the tarmac. We only dragged that across the road. That was no use!

Futile attempt

Plan D was getting Mountain Rescue involved after all. They showed up, but they were afraid of insurance issues if they would damage the car when pulling it out. Understandable! We decided to just try again with the winch. And then a car appeared. We felt a bit bad; there was no way it could pass! But when Kevin went to talk to the driver he came back with good news; the chap's father had a farm nearby, and was probably willing to drag the car out with a tractor. That sounded promising!

The father was phoned, showed up, pulled the car out, accepted some financial thanks, and buggered off again. Some things are so simple when you have a tractor! But by now it was so late we decided to can the walk. Instead we went to Abergavenny for lunch. And then we drove home! Kevin felt bad about the whole incident, but we would probably all have beached that thing there (there was little sympathy for electronic handbrakes in this company) and it had been an interesting experiment trying to get it out of its precarious situation. It was a nice day after all! And we've learned things: 1) don't buy a car with electronic handbrake 2) be friends with farmers 3) if you drive your car off the road, do it on a sunny day at a location with lovely views. And with friends around. Perhaps not with bloggers around, though....

12 June 2013

Agen Allwedd with the YCC

Caving kit: check. Snacks: check. Water bottle: check. Sleeping bag: check. I was ready for my first YCC caving trip! And then there was knocking on the door. Laura, one of the girls I'd met in the pub on Wednesday, came pick me up, with her boyfriend Sam, who I'd not met yet. We then proceeded to the house of Richard and Nicky, who had also been present in the pub. And after some tetris-like trying to get all the kit into the car, we were off!

We discussed bicycles and cameras and runs and hikes and commutes and whatnot, while driving through the rolling hills. It was a bit strange to be following the signs "the southwest"; I just came from there! But if that's what it takes...

Midway, we had a change of drivers. And quite soon I had a change of state of consciousness. Moving house is tiring! I fell asleep. I woke up when we got to the hut; it was already 11PM. There were already quite many people there; some from the Chelsea Spelaeological Society, who own the hut, and then folk from at least one more club. Nice! They were all very friendly. I managed one beer, and then I went to bed.

The next day we'd do what they called the "Aggie grand circle". I had no idea what that was, but it seemed to be a 6-7 hour round trip, in a cave officially called Ogof Agen Allwedd. Not too challenging, but with very slippery passages, apparently. I woke up to the sound of bleating sheep (we were in Wales, after all) nice and late, but not any later than average; this club clearly isn't the Early Bird Caving Club. We ate a hearty cooked breakfast, and got ready. One of the YCC guys would go with another trip, and we got one chap that was YCC, but a bit of a long distance member: Kevin, living in London, but here with us. So it was six of us (Laura's boyfriend would stay above the surface and take pictures, and we had Matt, who had travelled up earlier) setting off along the old tramline, with its amazing views. And shortly after 11AM we went underground.

 On our way to the entrance

And then things moved fast. We did some crawling, traversing, boulder-choke-negotiating,  splashing through a stream, clambering over rocks, doing all these things one does in a cave. And then we came to a big open space.

From there we went on: there was little time to take pictures or to usher the impressions of the cave into one's long-term memory. We just kept moving! More crawling, traversing, boulder-choke-negotiating,  splashing through a stream, clambering over rocks. Two of the men (Matt and Richard) were navigating; they each had a little description in a little ziplock. That just had to do! What could possibly go wrong in a 32.5 km cave, the longest in Wales? But they had both done it before. And it happened a few times they had to really search for the way on, but never very long.

Most of the route was rather straightforward, but there were some obstacles. At one point there was a climb, with a double rope dangling from it; we came up, clipping into loops in the rope. All that faffing with your cow tails (what you clip in with) makes it impossible to elegantly climb; you need your hands for securing yourself all the time. But it was fun! Another obstacle was a rift, in which we had to climb to a higher level; the men all just scampered up, but all the ladies were a bit hesitant. I am scared of rifts! But by the looks of it, not more scared than the average YCC female! The men were true gentlemen, though, and gave us all a hand, and happily we went on.

What was an obstacle for only me was sight. My lamp only lasts for about an hour on a fairly good beam, and after about two hours you really have to change batteries. With this 6-7 hour trip in mind, I had taken many, but it did mean I needed a break every two hours. And for some strange reason, my left eye fogged up. It looked like I had been wearing a contact lens all night! Daft. And not very practical. But I managed, although I did have to let the others go ahead at some point, as we were in the slippery streamway, and I had been using my batteries for 2 hours. I couldn't see a thing, and the streamway prevented the others from hearing my shouts. I had to just change without them noticing. Kevin had stayed behind, so he lit up the scene. It might have been half an hour later when we found the rest back.

We didn't take many breaks; this trip takes long enough as it is. We sometimes stopped just long enough to eat a candy bar, and we stopped at both places where there was a mug attached to the wall, at an especially pristine flow of water coming out of the wall. In the beginning we were making a good speed; Matt expected us to be out by five.

And then it was three. And the prognosis moves backward. And it was four. And five. I put in my last set of batteries; the last set is non-rechargeable, so they last a bit longer. If they ran out I would have to swap to my spare lamp! Which is fine; it's a good lamp. And I have a hand torch in my bag. But that would be it. No more light after that. And this was turning into a long trip. I was starting to feel it.

At 6:50 we were back in the big chamber. I was knackered! And the others too. Matt predicted it'd be 45 minutes to get out. Richard didn't believe it; he thought we could do it in 20 minutes. But Matt's evaluation of everybody's exhaustion was rather accurate; it was 7:30 when I saw daylight again. I was glad to be out!

We walked back to the hut. Soon we saw some shapes on the path; it turned out to be the chaps from the other trip, who'd come out an hour before us. they looked all fresh! They had had time to shower. And when we approached the hut we smelled BBQ; we saw Sam guarding that piece of desired equipment. This is the life!


I showered, changed, grabbed a beer and went outside. The meat was just ready! The light was fading, the sheep were bleating, everyone was happy and it was a wonderful evening. I also got to know the guys from the other trip a bit. They were lovely! I clearly made the right call coming out on this rather daft adventure. Nothing like caving until you can hardly stand up anymore (we all had that) and then having a good meal in a beautiful place with a beer and nice people. Hurray for the YCC!

As utter bonus, there were fireworks in the village below

11 June 2013

First York run

Running? Or moving house? Is it a choice? I figured it was. In my last two weeks or so in Plymouth I let my regime slip. There was enough to wear me out! But I don't want to let it go for long. I had to find a new route in my new town! Luckily, I had paid attention to that when selecting a place to live. I chose a place near the river, and the river has paths on both sides along quite a lot of its banks. And that's nice running territory! I had seen on google maps that there is a rather large green area on the north bank, so one sunny evening I decided to explore. I ran to the bridge, and across it, and soon saw an unpaved path going off in the distance. My kind of path!

 The vague dirt track coming off of the bicycle path that I chose for my run

By the time I thought of turning around I saw I had come close to the river again. There was a connecting path! So I ran back along the actual river. I was massively out of shape, but it was a nice run! I later found out it was ~6k, which is a good distance for a before-work-run. I should do that every second day soon!

The path along the river for the way back

 Getting sweaty again! And this time not from lugging boxes around!

10 June 2013

Meeting the York Caving Club

One of the things I've learned from moving from country to country is that it helps to join groups of sorts when you're new somewhere. Nothing like a local to show you where good times are to be had. And one needs friends! So I made sure that when I moved up to York, I had a caving club lined up. I had googled the nearest; unsurprisingly, that turned out to be the York Caving Club, and has established they take on members. Their contact had already kindly informed me of trips in the pipeline. And he mentioned they tended to have pub nights on the first Wednesday of the month; that was convenient! Less than a week into my York residency I would have an opportunity to meet them.

It turned out they'd meet in a small village south of York. And the University is to the south too, so that was easy. I biked down there, first over footpaths (a bit daft on bicycle) and then the road.It was a nice route! I crossed underneath an old railway line - these are clearly not only a feature of the southwest - and then I heard the swish-swish-swish sound of something being dragged along the wheel. And on close inspection I saw a thorny branch, firmly wedged into my tire. Oh no! I hadn't brought a repair kit! This could be an evening of defeat. I might have to phone a cab to get myself and my bike home. I pulled out the thorn, and was glad not to hear the SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS of a puncture, but there might be a small one still. Hmm.

 One of the footpaths I used for my trip to the pub

I was the first to get to the pub. I got me a pint and read the newspaper. Then a chap appeared; he introduced himself as Nick, and said he hardly ever showed up at YCC events. Oh well, he was here now! By the time my pint was gone the others started appearing, including Matt, with whom I had corresponded so far. It was a nice small group; 8 YCC cavers and me.

None of them, by the way, had a bike repair kit with them. Oh dear! But I went out to check; my tire was still firm. I had gone away with it. This was my lucky evening!

Talking over dinner gave me an idea of the differences between my caving Alma Mater, the PCG, and the YCC.  The YCC consists of members broadly in one age category, and they do mainly away trips and digs. The almost 50 year age differences of the PCG are a far cry from that! And they look, at first sight, like the differences in caving ability might also be a bit smaller here. But even here, they rely on Rick's knowledge! Before coming to the southwest, he was a Yorkshire caver, and he even wrote a book about the local caves that is still a respected work of reference. He's here, in spirit! Hi Rick!

The next actual underground trip they had planned was that very weekend. A bit soon after I'd moved in. But then again; one can't start to make a life for oneself soon enough. So I decided to join! Immediately a place in a car was arranged for me. And then I decided it was time to head home. My tire held, fortunately. The next day I had to pack my kit, as the day after that we'd leave soon after work! And then my new caving life would start...

07 June 2013


I should have taken pictures of my office the way it was when it was presented to me! It was in quite a state. But I forgot. On the first day, that might have had something to do with that a) I didn't recognize this as my desk, and b) I might in theory have had a desk, but I didn't have a log-in, and Roland didn't manage to log in for me either, so I figured there wasn't much I could do on campus. After having dealt with HR I went home; I have a laptop there. And I still had stuff to do with regard to the house. So the next day I came back, hoping for a log-in, and a door pass, and all those things that make work possible.

The local go-to guy for practically anything, by the name of Dave, told me I did in fact have a desk assigned. It just didn't look like that. Imagine a long, narrow office (about 3x8m) with desks on either side. The last desk in front of the window is entirely obscured by piles of chairs. The last desk on the right is heavily besieged by chairs too, but one can get to it. It clearly is in use; it has all sorts of things standing on it, the chests of drawers are locked, the filing cabinets are full, and there are paintings everywhere. The cupboard next to it is fulled to the brim, and over the brim, with paintings too. Under the desk are more paintings.

Some of the paintings we didn't manage to fit inside a box. She is clearly quite good.

That desk was mine. I did not recognize it as an empty desk, but I was assured that the previous user, the painter, had already left a year or so ago. She had not left on good terms; the term "booted out" fell more than once. Whether she had left in a hurry, or had not had the means of shipping all that stuff home, I don't know, but it was clear there was still a fully functioning office/atelier there.

The Head of School, Colin, apologized for the state it all was in. He conjured up some boxes, and started to pack all the paintings. That wasn't an easy task. There were so many! We looked in the filing cabinets too: more paint than you can shake a stick at. Dave and Colin tried some keys to see if we could open the drawers too; that didn't work, but some force applied through a screwdriver did work. We found more paint, a radio, a laptop, a tape recorder, stationery, and even a drawer full of food.

It took quite a while to pack most of that and chuck the rest away! It was starting to look like a desk again. And with Dave's help I could even log in. Things were becoming more normal!

The next day the chairs went. It REALLY looks like a decent office now! And there are still four large cardboard boxes with stuff that should go elsewhere, and even after all that packing there are paintings behind the cupboard, but I can live with that. I have an office! And a desk! And a working computer! And I can even get to all of that without too much effort. And on Thursday I went to the information desk with my key card that still didn't open doors (and had my name wrong) to have it replaced with something better. I immediately got one. And on Friday it worked! I can now walk into the corridor, and even the building, and back in, at will! The next step is to get a parking permit for a day; then I can bring all my university stuff in. That's still sitting in boxes in my lounge. And when all of that is festooning my office I might start to feel like a proper York employee!

 The result of half a week of labour: a decent office!

My desk

Local politics - again

When I got to my new house it was almost empty. But not entirely. There was some mail; some flyers for restaurants, some bags from charities who hope you fill them up with clothes and have them collected again, some mail that was really for me, from utility companies; and a flyer for a demonstration. It caught my eye.

It was a flyer from the TSSA (Transport Salaried Staff’s Association); it said that the English Defence League was using the tragic death of Lee Rigby as an excuse to publicly vent their political ideas at the war memorial for railway workers who perished in WWI. And that they did not want "their" memorial to be used as a venue for fascist propaganda. And they invited everyone to come and counter-demonstrate that Saturday. (They say it better themselves here). And I thought it might be a good idea to do just that. I'm not too fond of the ideologies of the EDL, and I think it is important that I, and those who agree with me on that front, make that public once in a while.

But first things first. The letting agency had only given me one set of keys; that scared me a bit. What if I lose them? So I went into town to have them duplicated. And on the way back I went to the war memorial in question. There was already a handful of people; all very left-wing-looking. I saw TSSA flags, and someone from a local anti-racism group, and lots of people of the Socialist Workers Party, and a guy with a shirt that read "some people are gay - get over it"; that didn't look too EDL either. I chatted a bit with those present and they informed me that the EDL people were in a pub around the corner. And finally, two appeared. They boldly unfolded their banner, which was immediately obscured by TSSA banners.

 Find the EDL in here! It's not easy...

More people appeared. Some of them clearly EDL; the look seems to be bald and wearing a woolly hat. And having a St. George's cross somewhere on the clothes. Surprising? No. Most people arriving were clearly anti-EDL; they were very predictable in their outfits too. And there was quite some police to keep an eye on all of that.

At 2PM sharp, the anti-fascist protesters kept 2 minutes of silence for those commemorated by the monument. The EDL clapped their hands. At some points there were some heated arguments, but both sides of kept things civil. The EDL laughed mockingly at the TSSA. A TSSA chap yelled "off our streets, fascist scum!" And that was about as heated as it got. Good! I like it when all sorts of people leave each other in peace.

And then I left. I had a house to turn into a home! But who knows; even though I'm not employed by the transport sector, and am not a socialist worker, I might bump into these people again. My first full day in York and I've already been political. Who knows what will follow!

06 June 2013

My commute

Google maps says it's 30 minutes. In reality it's closer to 20. And most of it is along the river and/or through green spaces. Very nice! I spent the first two days doing my commute twice, but I think I won't get tired of it. I'll show you why!

 It starts along a field between the river and the railway

 Then I pass underneath the city walls

 This part of city centre is not very scenic, but not very busy either

Here I get off the main road again (onto a cycle path on the left)

 Here I pass underneath the city walls on the other side

Further along the river, past Rowntree Park

Then over the river via Millennium Bridge

View from the bridge

Across the main road, then in between the barracks, as I wrote about before

Between the barracks and the campus there's only a field

 And this is where I end up! In the building of the Environment Department!