30 January 2014

Rain outside, ice in the head

January in northern England: there is a lot of rain dripping down the windows. And my increasingly popular home office is at a window. I see many beads gracefully sliding down. In my head it's too cold for liquid freshwater.

I mentioned I am applying for jobs in Wales and Sweden; the former job involves a lot of land ice while the latter is all about sea ice. And for both I have had to read up on the topics; the Swedes asked for a brief outline of how the applicants would go about reconstructing sea ice in the East Siberian Sea. And for the Welsh job I have, as I mentioned, been invited for interview, and as part of the process I have to give a lecture on British land ice. Which isn't there anymore, evidently. But that's beside the point. So I have spent a lot of time contemplating cold stuff. If I don't get either of these jobs at least I've learned a lot! And this will surely come in handy some day. As soon as the application dust has settled I should have gathered enough information to put some posts on my science blog again... the ocular gets frozen!

28 January 2014


By running races I explored Torrington, Cockington, Dawlish, Castle Drogo, and several other places. In the southwest you can run a nice race within an hour's drive from Plymouth most weekends. So I did a few number! And I enjoy that. Once you've kicked yourself into some basic shape running is fun, and it's extra fun when it's off-road, in new and beautiful places, with nice fellow runners and enthusiastic marshals. When I moved north I sought something similar, but found little; there aren't many races within an hour of York. I did find one in Leeds, and it was fun, but that was sort of it. But I did seek out people with York shirts; they may know things I don't know! And one mentioned the Parkrun. I had heard of that; it's a weekly 5k, and several places in the UK have them. I was aware of Plymouth and London. It turns out that there are Parkruns all over the place! The one in York is on the racecourse. I have never done a 5k, as my training runs are more than that, and it seems a bit daft to do a race that takes you less than half an hour. But well, it's worth a try. So one Saturday I got up, got into my running kit, biked to the racecourse, and parked up.

 All the UK Parkruns - and a few Irish and Danish ones

Behind me, a whole extended family came tumbling out of a car. It turned out to be a Bristolian parkrunner with his York hosts. He didn't quite know how this race would work either, but it's nicer to be confused together. Runners tend to be nice people. But we soon found out, and not much later the horn sounded.

I was queuing quite far at the back. That was a mistake! That's where the slow people are, and there were some 300 people in total. Quite a big field! I slalommed my way forward. But people soon spread out, and after a kilometer or so you can run at the speed of your preference without too much impediment. I had hit quite a nice rhythm.

 The empty racecourse

Didn't manage to keep a steady hand...

Slowly I crept forward. After some 3 or 4 km I approached a guy in a shirt of the same colour as mine. I seemed to go a little faster, so I set out to overtake. But he wasn't having it! He accelerated a bit, and we ran on together. That seemed to work out fine for both of us. He had a nice pace! And how quickly does the world become "us" and "them"; after a while he said "do you see these girls there in front of us? We can take them on!" And I agreed. We thundered past said girls, and the finish came in sight. He urged me on, and I legged it. I thought I had probably done rather well! I chatted a bit with my pacemaker (after I had my breath back). And then I saw a caver! I knew he ran, but it hadn't clicked he might be here. He runs so much he hardly gets underground. And then I saw another caver, the first one's girlfriend, behind me. Nice to see friends! Even though it later sank in the caver girl had been one of those I had purposefully overtaken at the last stretch. And I had not seen it was her! Oh dear.

When the results were published later that day I saw I had indeed done well. I was 129th of 304 total runners, and 15th of the 114 female runners. Not bad! So let's see if next week I can beat my time of 24:30. If I find such a good pacemaker again I might!

26 January 2014

iGlass - so long!

I presented preliminary dating results at a meeting of iGlass, the project I work for. By the time the final results get presented I will no longer be there. The next project meeting is likely to take place in September; after my contract expires. So it will be the last time I see these people as colleagues. Sad! It's a nice bunch. But science doesn't wait.

It's always good to present one's data to one's colleagues, and get insightful questions. And it's nice to discuss what our data means to the modellers, and what the models mean for our data. You always go home more motivated and inspired. But this time, my mind wasn't with the project as much as it normally is.
The somewhat dilapidated hotel I stayed in

In less than two weeks I'll have a job interview in Bangor, Wales. If I get that job, I'll be out of iGlass even before my contract runs out. The job is part research, part teaching. And part of the job interview is giving a lecture. The topic is the British-Irish Ice Sheet; something I knew nothing about until very recently. But I have almost two weeks! Should be fine for reading up on the matter and making a presentation. Beside my day job. That's how university teaching often works anyway. If I can't do it, I shouldn't get the job. So I seized my chance when we had our project dinner; there are glaciologists in the project! So after day 1 I had a reading list and some people to email. And after day 2 I had the project proposal and some powerpoint slides from the PI of the project the job is for. I may have been a bit silent during discussions, while I googled trains to, and hotels in Bangor, but that doesn't mean my time was wasted!

25 January 2014

Into the open mine

We were keen! We would see things nobody had seen in many years. We had spent a weekend digging out a mine, and now the time had come to go and explore it. And it was already a beautiful evening before we got in.

While I was driving towards the venue, I thought I saw an arch of pale light in the sky, but I figured it was probably moonlight refracted in the dirt on my windscreen, or something. But when I got out of the car and into the windy emptiness flooded by moonlight, I saw it actually was a nightly rainbow. I had only seen one once before; when, on a summer hike, I had slept outside in the Alps, and a small rain shower had woken me up, and drawn my attention to this unusual phenomenon. And now, a big and majestic specimen stretched out over our heads like a good omen! I knew most people would never have seen a black-and-white rainbow, so I figured I'd point it out, for all to enjoy. The nearest person was Sparky, who was just getting into his caving kit. And it's not quite etiquette to approach a man who is temporarily only partially dressed, but I figured he would not mind once he found out why I was so shamelessly walking towards him. And indeed! He had been standing with his back to the rainbow, and was oblivious to it. As were the other cavers that popped out of cars. We admired the view. Maybe another 15-or-so years before I see the next one!

This is not our rainbow but a badly photoshopped solar specimen... I just didn't get my tripod out in time.

The rain stopped. It was time to get underground! We walked through the drainage adit to the actual mine. It was amazingly beautiful! But a LOT of ochre had accumulated on the level floors. When we saw we were dislodging more than was a good idea we turned back. With pain in our hearts! You don't want to leave half a mine unexplored, but then again, if your explorations release too much mine waste into a stream, you'll never again get permission to dig out another underground venue. We took pictures on the way back; it was very beautiful. I needed many men to light my way, though; the place was too big to be lit by my modest headlight, even at 30 second exposure times.

After we had gotten out we discussed the options. What were we to do? Not go back? But there was a whole ochre lake in there - surely it was worth maintaining access so people could periodically check the state it was in? If that would burst, the stream the mine drained into, would be Campbell's soup. Could we perhaps put in a traverse line? Build a boardwalk? A via ferrata? A monorail? The ideas got weirder and weirder. The last word isn't said on the matter. But I'm glad I caught at least a glimpse of this amazing place! A few days later we gated it, so now we can ponder our options without having to worry too much about other people getting in and getting up to no good. And we'll see what the future of this mine will be...

20 January 2014

Open a mine

Somewhere in Yorkshire there is a mine that used to be accessible. The powers that be for some reason or other decided, however, that it had better be closed. And the mine stayed closed for years to decades. (Is it evident I did not read up too much on this topic? It does, doesn’t it? But I'm also purposefully staying vague; we can't draw too much attention to this place until it's gated again!) But some of our cavers thought that this place being closed off was a waste, and applied for permission to open it again. And we would of course gate it; wildlife, industrial heritage, and the wellbeing of slightly too adventurous passers-by needed to be protected. But once it was gated at least those with respect for mines and their surroundings, and the skills to negotiate them without getting themselves and their surroundings into trouble, could enjoy this place again. We had to jump through many hoops; we had to address exactly what we would do and when and where we would put any spoils and needed to get it all signed by everybody who is somebody. But we got permission!
The plan was to trace the adit on the surface to a convenient point where we would dig vertically down. We would try to break through the ceiling, support any weakened structure, and insert a plastic pipe big enough to climb down through. And then gate the pipe. Bob is one’s uncle! But would it be that simple?
On a sunny but cold Saturday morning we gathered. We picked a spot and started digging. And after a foot or so someone announced they had hit a hard surface; the ceiling? It turned out not to be. So we dug deeper. And deeper. And deeper. And started wondering if our eyes had been playing tricks on us. We were already 2.5 meters deep! Where was that ceiling?

In the beginning we could still dig with three people, but when the hole got deeper and narrower fewer people fit in. At some point it was one person digging, and one other person handing buckets of spoil up, and everybody else just standing around. I got cold. So at the next change-over I seized the opportunity to get down and dirty. And soon hit a flat stone. And one beside it, nicely aligned. Was this the ceiling? I cleared the surface and left it to the next digger to validate my findings. And it was the ceiling! Success! But the sun was already setting by that point. We tidied up, covered the hole, and went to the pub.

The next day we got back, and made the hole wider while waiting for the pipe to arrive. It had an outer diameter of almost a meter! And when the hole was wide enough we were faced with the challenge of breaking through the ceiling. Luckily, we approached it from above, and arches don’t tend to have much tensile strength outwards, so we just drilled a hole in the central stone, put a bolt with an eye in, and pulled it out. A first glance into the adit! We saw water glistening, but it was clear it wasn’t deep. Good!
We pulled some more stones out, cut some off to get an even hole, stabilized those that were in the perimeter of the hole (taking away the keystone weakens the structure considerably!), and cut a sliver off the pipe to see if it would fit. It was good the gathered people had garages and sheds festooned with angle grinders, circular saws, jigsaws, drills, generators and whatnot. It was a coming and going of power tools in our hole. Without these it would have been awfully difficult!

 Everyone, including the dog, fascinated by what is going on down there.
We used the pipe sliver to make a template for the bottom of the pipe, so it would fit perfectly. We had already fixed steps inside it; these were made in the forge-in-the-back-of-a-van provided by our farrier. And then we dropped it into the hole! Before it was properly positioned one of us climbed down in the teetering structure, and jigsawed it into position. Luckily it wasn’t heavy; we could left it up for him to be able to do his work. And soon it dropped snugly into place! And then the big job of filling the gap between the pipe and the surrounding ground! But this was a job that could be done with many more hands at the same time, so we made our spoil heap disappear in no time. And we built the rocks and sods that had come out of our hole around the pipe.

It was a cold day!
Now we had gained entrance, I wanted to see what we had access to! So I went to the car, and changed into my caving kit. By the time I got back they were already fixing a garden gate to the top of the pipe, as a temporary gate. I had to be quick! I dropped down, and had a walk into the hillside.I didn't go too far; I knew the others were closing the entrance off already. And I should help with the final tidy up. But it was nice to get a preview of what we had earned ourselves! Soon we would go in for real... This must have been the most efficient getting-access-weekend in mine exploration history!

17 January 2014


Where would I hide if I didn't want to be found? Among musicians! Nobody will look for me there. But there are more reasons to venture into the midst of people who are gifted in a way I most certainly am not. To enjoy these gifts!

One might have noticed I have a musician amongst my friends here in York; Abi, who plays the violin. And she's not the only one around here, it turns out. She alerted me to the existence of folk sessions; just pubs where at a given time and date folk musicians gather and just play. Everybody is welcome. Just plonk down on a chair and play along. As far as I could tell, when one song is over someone with an idea will just start the next, and those who know it will play along. And that all night! And these sessions tend to be packed. The first time I attended on it started with some violinists, accordionists and what have you at a table, but before I knew it the whole pub was filled to the brim with people of all ages and genders with flutes, bodhráns, guitars, you name it. It was great! But I didn't get to go very often; these evening tend to clash with digging sessions. But then there was a session in a different pub on a Friday. That worked! And it was great, again. This session even had a charming dog, and a lady playing a washboard. Spiffing!

Abi in the centre, surrounded by other musicians

The rest of the pub was filled up too.

We were several Abi-fans in there!

I made sure to leave after two beers, because of having to rise early the next day and expecting an exhausting day (I turned out to have expected correctly), but I had a great time. They even played a miners' song! Right up my street. The Collier Song, also known as "I can hew". Here is a version performed only with three voices and two bodhráns. Listen for yourself, if you will!

14 January 2014

Will there be flood?

When I came back from my Christmas holiday in the Netherlands, I could see that in my absence the river levels had been high. I could tell from the mud on the towpaths, and I found my running route under water. But the river had returned to modest levels.
And then it started rising again. And one day I encountered my commute blocked; a gate had been closed due to flooding. I saw the river was high, but it wasn’t THAT high! Strangely enough, you could easily get to both sides of that gate. With perfectly dry feet. It seemed to be a bit of a daft measure. What does having to go around a gate help? It doesn’t.

Was there flooding? Yes, a few days later (gate still closed) the other side of the river was flooding. I could see the river water streaming over the towpath onto a field that was part of a floodplain. And all along the route, I could see the northeast bank burst. No problems on the southwest bank though! But it did make for interesting pictures. If the river would have come even higher it would burst the other bank too. But it didn’t! The river dropped about 1.5 meters in the past 48 hours (of me writing this). Will I ever see York in flood? My guess is I won’t…

A man braves the tow path

That tower is supposed to stand NEAR the water

Some 4 km further downstream than the chap above, the path emerges from the water. I don't think it was flooded ALL the way, but it sure was for much of it!

13 January 2014

Dentists' compliments

I seem not to have written about dentists at all since I started this blog. I can’t really remember if I went to one in Tromsø. I sure did in Plymouth, but clearly didn’t consider that newsworthy. But now I do. Not that there’s much to report on, but in this case I consider that news.

While living in Amsterdam, my annual visit to the dentist was barely more than an ego boost. I would come in, he would have a poke around, congratulate me with my excellent set of teeth and then I would be on my way. One year he even apologised for making me bike that far for so little, and suggested we go for a pint. But one should not get complacent. 

In Plymouth, probably after a few years of no check-ups, the cycle was continued. I just went there for a bit of polishing and a lot of praise. And then I moved to York. And there, for the first time, one of my teeth started feeling like it might need some work. And I must say, I am a bit paranoid about dental issues. I am keen to keep the pristine shape I am in unaltered, and I still have unpleasant memories of having four teeth pulled when I was 11 in order to make some space. Imagine me with four molars more in my jaw! And these were fairly accessible. I don’t want to think about getting caries and having to have my wisdom teeth pulled. But maybe avoiding that requires professional help. Time to find a dentist. 

When I got to the correct building, I noticed a very vocal cat (how could I not!) on the pavement. I was early; I parked my bike and made closer acquaintance. A good sign! A dentist with a nearby flirtatious cat MUST be a good dentist. 

 The silly thing wouldn't sit still; he's a bit blurry in all the pics

And it was not, by my somewhat inexperienced judgement, only a good dentist; he was very thorough, and checked all sorts of things, like how the teeth in my upper and lower jaw actually fit together, that had never been checked. And he commented on the "huge" flexibility of my jaw - call me Python! It was also one that continued the good news. The painful tooth only had a very slight and reversible gum issue. Otherwise I’m still in spiffing dental shape! I’m glad. Let’s keep it that way. And I hope that cat is there again next time I visit…

09 January 2014

To pierce or not to pierce

When I had my nose pierced at, I think, 21, they shoved a solid steel ring through it. Some years ago (I haven't found when exactly!) I decided the ring was a bit too ostentatious, and I switched to studs. Solid, steel studs. But my ladyfication progressed, and I decided to buy some more subtle jewellery. Subtle but still with a rather thick rod. I like to keep my options open! And then I lost a few, and bought a new set, but hadn't paid attention. These had slim rods. Now what? I decided to go for it. Since then, I've been wearing a very small modest stone in the valley of my nostril. I like changing the colour for special occasions, but had noticed you can't just take these out; the little ball at the end that keeps it in place is so much thicker than the rod! But then the stone fell out. So I knew I HAD to replace it! And well, once you're resigned, it's not so bad. I ripped it out. With bloody result. And had the replacement ready. That I didn't manage to get in! It seemed not to find the hole. I've had that before; sometimes a piercing takes a wrong turn and it can be a bloody job (literally!) to make it go the right way. And I knew I couldn't let it wait; that would just let the wound close.

Should I just leave it out? It's only a tiny hole these days; within no time it would probably be perfectly inconspicuous. Do I need a nose piercing? I was close to just doing without. But then I thought "wasn't I the kind of person to keep her options open? I can ditch the piercing any day! I can't decide to keep it any day. Now let's get that stud in!

I thought I might push something through from the other side; that often helps. But I didn't have a stud long enough for the purpose anymore. What to do? I decided to make a needle blunt, and use that. Easier said than done! I was rasping that poor needle over a fine file for ages before I deemed it blunt enough to be inserted into a bloody wound. And sticking it in from the top was easy. So easy I tried the stud, and indeed, it worked! So now I am a pierced woman again (even without taking my ears into consideration). Maybe some other day I'll prance around with an undecorated nose!

08 January 2014

New year, new chances

It's 2014, the year in which my contract expires. It's close now! It won't be until the end of August, but that's not actually that far away. I had already started to look for jobs, but those I apply for now have starting dates of April-ish. That means, in a way, that I have five months to get me a job. Six would be fine too, actually. Or seven! There's nothing wrong with being unemployed if you already have a new job lined up. And I don't have to waste time; I have a rather spiffing home office these days.
But in order to have a job lined up one needs to get offered one. These days two new applications are going out. One in Bangor, and one in Stockholm... who knows. Maybe one of them will be successful. And if not I'll have to step up my game; this year it has to happen! Preferably no later than spring...

05 January 2014

Into 2014

Last year I went north from Plymouth to celebrate New Year's Eve. And this year I decided to do the opposite! In 2011 and 2012, I had celebrated with in strongly overlapping companies, and it had been nice. Hence the decision to follow two of the revellers; Paul and Louise, who had moved to Staffordshire, north for the 2013 celebrations. But in the course of that year, I moved up while they moved down, so this time I travelled south to see not only them but also Pete and Sabrina, and Jon.

I found hospitality at Pete and Sabrina's, and wondered how long I should stay. On one hand I had lots to do and didn't want to overstay my welcome, and on the other hand, it is a six hour train ride and when you travel that far you want to get something out of it, and I hoped to see some other people too. I settled on 2.5 days.

Pretty Plymstock, where Pete, Sabrina, Dave, Jon And Rupert live

It was lovely to see Pete and Sabrina again! The day flew by. And then it was the 31st. A celebration was ad hocced; originally, Paul and Louise would host the festivities but their new house was not quite ready yet. So all were invited to Pete's. And we invited about twice as many as initially planned. The more the merrier! So in the end we had also Jon's friend John with girlfriend and stepson, and Simon the Historian. To my horror Pete kicked off celebrations with gym music (shudder!), but I must admit I warmed to it. When one of the tracks was "finally" by CeCe Peniston, which these days I strongly associate with the most enjoyable film "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", I was won over. Go, Hugo Weaving! Shake that stuff.

Champagne flowed. Fireworks were watched. Banter was exchanged. Cabs were nowhere to be found. A classic New Year's Eve! And the next day I woke up rather fresh; I hadn't overdone it on the champagne. This allowed me to fully enjoy Lionel and Corinne dropping by. And later tea at Jon's. I failed to also visit Rupert and Dave, but I'll be back some time. And maybe I'll see them underground one day, in Nenthead for instance! And then it was time to go back north. Happy new year, all! I hope your year started as well as mine!

03 January 2014

Beef with the KLM

I don't do travelling light. I want to have stuff with me so I can work! And I want to have stuff to read! And I want to have my running kit available! And if I'm in the Netherlands, I want to be able to buy cheese and whatnot. And if I'm in the Netherlands over Christmas, people sometimes give me birthday presents, as these occasions are so close to each other.

I had booked a trip without cabin luggage. I can't remember why; maybe luggage simply wasn't offered. Maybe I had been scatter-brained. But it didn't matter; I could book extra bags on the KLM website, so I did. And checking in in York went effortlessly. No such luck in Amsterdam; the bag wasn't registered, and I had not printed a receipt. I paid for it again, and was assured by the chap I dealt with I could claim that money back if I could prove I had already paid. So optimistically I went home.

I went to the KLM website, to the "refund" page. When I entered the code from my receipt, an error message popped up: it said I could not claim refunds of that kind through that page, and I had to contact KLM otherwise. They don't give an email address, so I went to Facebook with my question. Where they tried to bluff themselves out of it. I sent them the initial receipt, and the receipt of my second payment, to which they boldly replied I had only paid for that bag one way and I was not owed any money. What? Nonsense. So I didn't buy into that.

Some bickering later I had them admit they did bloody owe me that refund. And they sent me back to the refund site. Which says I cannot claim refunds of that kind through that page. Hurray, back to square one. They tried to blame me entering wrong information, but that myth was quickly dispelled as well. I was wondering: are they perhaps trying to flood you with hassle to such an extent that your time has been worth more than the money they owe you, so you'll give up? As with dealing with Plymouth University over the fried externals, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Next time I'll shroud myself top to toe in receipts. Apparently it's necessary!

01 January 2014

Coming back to high water levels

"Shall we watch the eight o'clock news?" My stepmom suggested we keep ourselves informed on the world on Christmas day. One item stood out for me: wide-spread flooding in the UK. Oh dear; when I left, the river had already been quite high! They only mentioned Dorset, but why would the Dutch news be exhaustive on English flooding? So the next day I checked the river level. Dear! It had been a LOT higher than I'd ever seen it before. What would that do? But on the Yorkshire news sites no mention was made of York flooding. Apparently, nothing was amiss. And when I checked later, at the airport, levels were very modest again. But I was still curious to see for myself.

And then I went for my morning run. I didn't get very far! I could tell from trees washed up against the rail bridge, and mud on the footpath, the river had been quite energetic. And the floodplains were part flooded, and a lot of the path was under some three inches of water. And were this an off-road race I'd happily splash through, but for a morning run that goes a bit far. Good for pictures though! And if in the new year the water is still that high I'll have to run away from the river...

 The floodplain seen from the bridge. The water can be seen in the distance. These fields were the venue for the York horseraces, by the way, until flooding inspired a move to Knavesmire (not a very dryness-inspiring name itself).  
There is a concrete well somewhere in the plain. Something tells me the water in it is currently under pressure...
My running route vanishing under water

 It makes for nice pictures, though!