23 February 2014

Last Yorkie weekend: Sunday

We had greatly enjoyed the post-caving houmous the previous day. And the excellent dinner (including powerful garlic bread) and some beers. And wine, whisky, ginger wine, and whatnot. So we weren't up and about very early. And we took it easy over breakfast. But we managed to leave the hut before noon in order to wander up nearby Pen-y-Ghent, one of the Three Yorkshire Peaks. It was in sight as soon as we walked out of the door. It was a great day to do this walk! Sun and menacing skies.

Soon we reached the top. We ate our sandwiches and contemplated the options. We could just go back, back the other way, or back with a small detour. We chose the last option. That took us down along the slope of the hill, which had looked like a blob from the approach, but turned out to be rather elongated. And there was quite some snow left on this side! That allowed for snow angels. Snowballs. Running down a slope until you fall over. Many combinations of the above. It was fun! It was rather snow-in-your-socks damp and chilly fun, but fun nonetheless!

After we had managed to make our way down the side of the slope we realised we had strayed further from the hut we thought. Time to quicken our step! We still had quite a drive home to complete.

We left the snow and reached the sunny, green hills. With a river vanishing into it! We had accidentally stumbled upon another Dales cave. And a large gap in them! This place is littered with holes. But we moved on to reach a watering hole. We all could do with a nice hot drink at the Pen-y-Ghent cafe! And after that we slithered the last few muddy kilometres back to the hut, where we got our tired arses in gear for cleaning the place. And then it was time to go home.

I got a big hug from all. I'll miss these folks! I hope their preferred direction for going on caving weekends is west. You can't find better people to hang around underground with!

20 February 2014

Last Yorkie weekend: Saturday

When I knew I would not have to spend my weekends writing job application letters or preparing for interviews, I figured I could join the YCC for my last weekend away with them before I would leave York. And I may well enjoy more weekends with them; if they travel west for a weekend underground I can just drive in the opposite direction and end up at the same place. But it's different from a distance! So I was glad to make it.

On Valentine's day I rattled the Laura's letterbox. I was going to pick her up and drive us to the Dales, where we would stay in a cavers' hut near Ingleton. There was no response. I knocked. I rang. I texted. And gave up and sat in the car, listening to "the News Quiz" in the car until she would notice me.

From the moment she did all went smoothly. She TomTommed me skillfully to our destination, and while we were unloading, Gary's car, which held Gary, Matt and David, appeared too and we were complete. The weekend could begin! And for the first night, that basically just involved drinking beer and socialising. The Saturday was for caving.

And Saturday came. We jumped into the two cars, drove to Clapham, and walked the 45 minute walk to the entrance of Marilyn, the cave of choice for the day. Not the most spectacular Dales venue, but one that is still accessible when half the country is in flood, which is currently was. We kitted up at the entrance and in we went.

I started out having my bag on the wrong side of the rope. I always do that! The second pitch I struggled too; it was very, very narrow; one of those pitches where you rub against the stone on literally all sides. Not a trip for the PCG with its slightly higher average BMI! The next pitch was even worse; I hung myself from my stop, but found out the hard way that loop in the rope was too short for that. And try to get yourself out of a stop when the rope is at tension! This was my clumsy day. But I got down safely.

Once down I was cornered by two of the more senior YCC members. They had noticed something in the air between me and one of the CMHS chaps. What was going on there? I announced an imminent first date. That seems a satisfying answer, and with that we moved into a rift. I hate rifts! They never fail to scare me. But this one was rather innocuous and we came to its end without issues. A streamway followed, and then a short crawl through water. We hesitated at that one; would a crawl like that really be a good idea in wet times like these? But we did it. And were rewarded by another streamway with a drop along a waterfall, and then a view on the last drop. We left that pitch be; it had a waterfall of its own, and not a trivial one; it was so much more powerful than would be comfortable that day. We went back.

A not very good pic of the first rift

Without incident I came to the last pitch. I happened to be the first one. I climbed up and came to the gate on top. I balanced on a scaffolding pole and a protruding rock. And tried to lift the gate. And failed! Oh dear. I tried a few times more. Man that thing is heavy. I decided to admit defeat. I secured myself on the rope that went to a peg outside the shaft, and called to Laura to join me. And together we managed to open the gate and climb out. Dear me I need to work on my upper body strength.

When we were out the men followed. We told them the view was amazing; it was sunny, and we had a view on snowy hills, which, due to fog, had not been the case when we came in! They thought we were bullshitting them. Every man was announced by steam billowing out of the shaft (we exclusively cave with hot men), followed by sounds of disbelief when they saw they indeed came out into the sunshine.

The entrance with its heavy gate

 Snow on the hills in the background

We walked back through the beautiful landscape. This had been quite a brief trip, but that was OK; I clearly wasn't in the right mindset for anything very demanding. And drinking beer with the others, and eating pita bread with Matt-made hummus was quite my idea of a good time!

18 February 2014

Roof down again

Somerset is flooded, the whole of England has turned into paddy fields, Dawlish has a pendant railroad, Kingsand may be losing its clock tower. All over the country the weather has caused massive havoc! So what else happened? Of course! My bicycle roof came down again. I'll have to fix it again! This time it will only have to last a few weeks. Not necessarily the easiest weeks perhaps though...

 Proof of me giving in to weather: the roof is stacked away behind my cupboardy thing I tend to hang my dirty caving kit from. I am off on my last weekend trip with the YCC as a resident!

17 February 2014

Frankenstein caving suit

I remembered noticing the wear and tear on my caving suit the previous time I was wearing it. This suit would soon need some repairs! But it happened sooner than I thought. As I mentioned; on my clumsiest caving night in a while (not the worst ever!), which was the next trip that warranted a suit, I felt it rip. Oh dear. I went home, hung it out to dry, and plotted the death of a backpack. I had one backpack with a buggered zip. If you were very careful you could still use it; but it was clear it was on the way out. I decided on euthanasia. I took a panel out of the bag, cut it square, melted the frays, put glue on the edge and pinned it into place. Bits of mud fell all around me. If I hadn't lost the camera on the last trip I would have bothered to get a bit more clean! This substantial job would have to be done in the kitchen. One can't do this on carpet! And while sewing away I suddenly saw another tear. Oh dear. This would be a big job. And would it even last? The whole damage resulted from extensive belly-crawling. Wouldn't the stitches wear through in no time? I decided to order a new suit. But this one might last for a while more. For less demanding trips!

The two finished repairs. How long would they last?

13 February 2014

Cleveland iron and jet

Caving clubs are hybrid creatures. In the southwest I often was underground with a combination of either the PCG and the CMEC, or the PCG and the DSS. And here up north it works like that too. When we dig during the week I tend to simplify that we are a blend of YCC and NYMCC, but in fact we also have two members of the CMHS. And then all sorts of people have multiple alliances, which include the YSS, the GOC, the YUCPC and who knows what more. And the PCG, of course. And last Sunday I made my debut on pure Cleveland Mining Heritage Society territory. Before moving to York I would have said that Cleveland is a city somewhere in the US midwest. But one learns and now I know it also is a North Yorkshire county famous for its ironstone mining. And there has been a fair amount of jet mining going on as well. So as step 1 in trying to enjoy some of the northeast before I bugger off to the far west I had Chris and Rich drag me through some of the relics of Cleveland's industrial past. 

I started out by straying into the Cleveland industrial present. I missed a junction and suddenly found myself crossing the Tees. Oh dear! Time for a U-turn. Fifteen minutes late I was at the small town pub I was supposed to be. We plonked all the kit in one car and off to the first ironstone mine we went. It was on a hill, and the view was amazing. But that was not what we came for; underground we went.

A view on Roseberry Topping, a local landmark

This was an ironstone mine that had closed the previous century. There was a lot of infrastructure still there! Furnaces and something that looked like pulley systems and whatnot. Maybe that was because removing any of that would require oxygen, which was in short supply; Chris had told me of "the Wheel of Doom" which is a landmark one should not pass, as beyond the air is really iffy. We reached it, and Chris thought it was a good moment for a picture, so Rich and I crouched down and tried to not move. And even though we weren't doing anything, we were both breathing like we'd just run the marathon. Not good! When the picture was taken and we could move again my suggestion was to get the f### out of there. Which we did.

 Rich and me at the Wheel of Doom - notice the sharp picture with blurry heads...

Then it was time for some jet mines. The biggest we went in was hobbit-sized. That seems to be normal for jet mines. And we tried two mines that had deteriorated to no more than small grotty holes, which were new to us. Nothing was readily explorable beyond a few metres, but maybe if next time we bring a shovel that may change? And we managed to not get attacked by badgers so we had fun.

The last trip of the day was an ironstone mine with inexplicably good air. We did extensive pottering around. Which was most fun for me; I hadn't been there before, and even though I was a Dutch person in British company, I was easily the shortest and the ceiling was so low that even I had to constantly stay in speedskating mode in order not to bump my head. We had come in through an elaborate gate, but came out through a comfortable, natural crawl under a tree; the caving clubs here really have too much time on their hands.

 Chris in the second ironstone mine

We had our post-mine pint in the pub where we had started. It advertised itself as "the home of the parmo"; another north-eastern particularity. (Dutchies; is that more or less the same as a kapsalon?)I do not hesitate to try anoxic ironstone mines, but I have so far been too afraid to broaden my horizon to cover the parmo! I might never. But otherwise Cleveland had been good to me. Next time I'll try not to stray headfirst into County Durham when I go there...

11 February 2014

Parkrun #3 - hungover edition

It had been a wild week. Job interview, caving club pub night, getting the job, crawling in the mud, and failing to eat puffins in a restaurant and managing to drink beer in pubs, I didn't expect to have any energy left for a pub run. But when I woke up on Saturday I was early enough, and I felt up for it. So I showed up! It was a beautiful day. And I was slightly hungover, but I still managed to stay within 25 minutes. Not bad! Next time hopefully again a quiet Friday before I show up on the racecourse...


I can't eat a puffin. I don't have the heart! I know now; my puffin-crazy friend Abi had her birthday, and while I was lying in the mud in a cave some of my other friends made her puffin-topped fairy cakes. She loved them. And couldn't eat her puffin either. Mine is now standing in the window sill, looking a bit wistful. It was a good night! Needless to say there was not only puffin pining but also much rejoicing...

09 February 2014

Underground pictures

The day I heard I had the job in Bangor was a Wednesday. I would be celebrating by lying in the mud in a cold cave! What could be better. We didn't think we would get to the far end, due to flooding, but there had been a call for pictures, so I had packed two cameras, two tripods (the one with the wonky leg and the one with the wonky head) and a flashgun. The latter would not be triggered by the camera flash anymore (I have a way with ruining electronics) but if I would have a flash monkey at my disposal they could manually trigger it while I was taking a long exposure picture.

When I was changing into my wetsuit the Cleveland men arrived, and we went down together. After a bit of gratuitous crawling around we got down to business. Chris and I had brought cameras, so Rich became the model. Chris soon vanished while I tried to get the tricky timing of a back-lit picture right. Rich had taken his helmet off and pointed it in my direction, with himself in between. We tried pictures entirely back-lit (these tend to be beautifully arty and spectacular) and those filled in with light from the front. The camera can't time this (it's just a compact, after all) so I had to try to guess how much time was needed for both my headlight and the exposure. And I had to try to keep the lens clean and dry. Rich was a bit shocked when he realised I try to achieve this by licking it. But how else? I had belly-crawled through mud to get there; nothing else was as clean and dry...

After a whole lot of pictures of various degrees of success I was cold. I was glad we moved on to try elsewhere! In the "Main Chamber" we did another session. And then we went on again. And bumped into Handshake and Sparky who were trying to enlarge a passage by removing a large rock. They tried to lift it up, but after a lot of wiggling we decided we had better let it slide down. A good way of getting warm again! When the rock was out of the way we squeezed through and had a look in this chamber. And the passage behind it, which had really weird mud formations. Back in the chamber I climbed into the ceiling, and then poked through a hole in the floor. I could see a passage going on, by the looks of it only blocked by sand, so easy to dig! But the chaps weren't too happy with me in that squeeze with a boulder choke above me, of which we turned out to have varying interpretations of its stability, and soon I felt hands around my legs and was popped out again.

It was time to get out. Rich and I were summarily ordered to get out the difficult way, as we hadn't been before. Okay! It was a bit narrow, though; I banged my head  a lot,and thought I felt my suit tear on a pointy bit of rock. Oh dear.

I had taken my belt off, from which my bag hangs (which had quite some photography gear in it that day), and I was too lazy to put it back, so I just held it in my hand. And lost the belt. Luckily Chris noticed and took it with him.

At the next junction our ways parted; I preferred the route we had only opened up in November, but the men went the other way. In there I noticed I had banged my head on the ceiling so much my battery pack had come off. Luckily I had a torch in my bag; using that I could put everything more or less back in place. Onwards! I got to the shaft, climbed up, dislocated my battery box again, laid down, and crawled to where the others would appear. pushing my bag in front of me. And forgot about the slits in the ground. Oops.

With a dull thud the bag with two cameras, two tripods and a flashgun landed on the bottom of a narrow rift. Sigh! I climbed back down the shaft I came from, hoping to be able to reach it from the side. They were not connected! Oh dear. The bag was some 3 metres down, and not even an anorexic dwarf could fit down that hole, The only way to get it out would be by fishing. But with what?

Word of my antics had reached the men. Sounds of "how on Earth did you manage THAT?" were heard. And someone was sent out to look for a pointy item for fishing purposes. We had a farrier in the team; you never know what these have in their cars! But we had a look around in the shaft where some months earlier I had tried to stash all sorts of caving junk away in a tidy fashion. And then I saw the piece of rebar with a sharpened hook! Perfect! It was only ~1m long though; we would have to dangle it from a rope. So we did.

I crawled back, and had a go at catching the karabiners or the draw string of the bag with my hook. It didn't go so well, and I decided it might be easier from the other side, so I slithered out the shaft to turn around. That was better! And Rich joined to see what the hell was going on. Which was good; soon I had the drawstring on the hook, and was pulling the bag up. But then it snagged, almost a metre down. Oh no! Way outside my reach. But not outside Rich's. He got hold of the karabiner and pulled. Out came the bag! So the whole photo session had not been for nothing!

With a torn suit and a dangling battery box, but with my camera bag I came out. Do I get clumsier when I suffer from job-related adrenaline? Probably! It had been a good day. And in my head I reserved some of the weekend for kit repair...

08 February 2014

Bangor - it will be home

I got it!
I had been sieving samples in the lab, purposefully wearing rather tight jeans, so I would feel the vibrations of my phone if a call or email would come in. But still I couldn't help getting ot out once in a while, checking if I perhaps had missed something. I had been told I would hear from Bangor that very day! And then I took it out and saw a missed call. And an email. From James. If I could give him a call. I pulled my iPod out of my ears, put sieve and sample down, took off the lab coat and ran to my office, slodging with adrenaline. I phoned James' office; no answer. I phoned his mobile. He answered.

He asked me how I was. A bit nervous, I said. He laughed and said there was no need for that as he was offering me the job. I had the job! I immediately accepted.

I will start on April 1st. It's soon! It'll be hectic. I will have to find a place to live in Bangor, pack my stuff, terminate my rental contract here, do as much on the current project as is reasonable... Try to spend a lot of time with friends, underground, or with friends underground so I enjoy Yorkshire as much as I can before leaving for different hunting grounds. I'll line up a caving club before even getting to Wales; doing something similar here in York was one of the smartest things I did. And maybe there's some sea kayakking going on there too. And certainly some Snowdonian hiking! I do remember, last time I was in North Wales, pondering what the nearest university would be, and dreaming of finding a job there. I thought I was being silly, but evidently dreams do come true!

The bridge to  Menai Bridge

03 February 2014


All I can do now is wait. Within two days I expect to know whether I will be moving to Wales this spring.

I was glad to be invited to interview for the job in Bangor. It concerned a job that’s partly research and partly teaching, so I would have to give a trial lecture and be interviewed. I prepared the trial lecture, and seized the opportunity to have a try-out during our weekly Friday Coffee lecture series. Feedback was positive! So fairly confident, and with the last unread articles in my bag, I boarded the train west. You can tell when you leave England and get to Wales; the trains are smaller, slower, and they seem to stop at random. They start behaving like buses, and only stop when people want to get on or off. But after some 5 hours I arrived in Bangor, and a while later I was at my hotel. Bangor didn’t look to pretty at first sight! But the hotel was nice.

 My hotel room

The next morning I ran through my presentation a last time, and went for breakfast. That was a bit nerve-wracking; it took them 25 minutes to cook me some porridge. That’s ludicrous! Luckily I had gone down early enough, and with time to spare I checked out in my pencil skirt and my jacket. Off to the School of Ocean Sciences! Which was only a few minutes up the road. 

Along the road a well-dressed woman approached me. Another candidate, perhaps? She revealed she was indeed here for a job interview, but not for the same job. She asked, in a slight panic, if I knew where the “normal site” of the university was (that’s really what it’s called!). I thought I knew it was on the mainland, and we were on Anglesey. Oh dear! But as I was actually supposed to be on Anglesey, I hadn’t brought the map of the mainland campuses. She was in trouble… I hope she got to her destination in time. And the moral of the story is: prepare! 

I continued my way to the School. Some people were just leaving it, which I didn’t pay too much attention too; an upcoming interview absorbs one’s attention somewhat. But when they got closer I saw that the man at the head was James, the man who was giving away the job! And the ladies behind him were the other candidates. And he revealed there were two more, but they would be interviewed through Skype. A large field!

The view from the School coffee room

If you zoom in, it looks like this!

James brought us to the coffee room that would be the hub for the day, arranged some coffee. And after only half a mug I kicked off! The panel pretended to be 2nd year students, which was quite surreal (that James guy is quite bright!), but all went well. After 20 minutes sharp I was done, and then I got to drink coffee with candidate #3 while #2 gave her lecture. And then the other way around. It’s nice to get to meet the other candidates. If you know they’re very nice it doesn’t feel so bad if you have to yield the job to them! And then lunch was served. 

After lunch they were supposed to show us campus, but they had changed their minds. I would first be interviewed, and THEN shown around. That meant getting a later train, but who cares. The interview went rather well I think. The panel was a nice bunch! And then it was all done. A friendly PhD student showed me around, not only in the buildings, but even on the research vessel that lay moored outside. And then I was ready to go! 

 Menai Strait. Notice the research vessel moored in the mid distance

On the way back from the research vessel we bumped into candidate #2; a friendly Norway-based Swede. She suggested we might walk back to Bangor proper together. So we did! And that’s not the most efficient way to get there, so I had just missed the train by 15 minutes; the next one would leave after an hour. This is Wales; nothing like rail hub York. 

The Swede rejoined me in the train, so we got to chat away all the way to Manchester. Two days later we would both be back at work. And about to find out who got the coveted job… Watch this space!

Parkrun #2

It’s nice to run a certain race for the first time and get have quite a good result. It does jeopardise the second run, though; will you manage to beat your first time, given it was so good? I was going to find out. 
Before the start

I timed my second Parkrun a bit tighter, now I knew what I was up to. Five minutes before the start I parked my bike. And I made sure to not be too far back in the starting queue. And then we were off!
Again I managed to get into a nice rhythm. Before I knew it, I was almost through the first lap. Then I heard some heavy breathing in my neck. I was being used as a pacemaker! Fine with me. But the chap who was doing the breathing then moved up, and struck up a conversation. He pointed out we were only a few metres behind the official 24 minute pacemaker, and he figured we could take him on! So we accelerated, and caught up with him. But the breathing chap got cold, and wanted someone big and sturdy to run behind, so he’d get shelter from the wind, but the guy he picked was a bit too fast for me. I stayed with the 24 minute chap. Who was occasionally shouting encouragements. 

The finish came near. Mr 24 minutes had run away from me, but that was OK with me; my previous time had been 24:30, so even finishing some seconds behind him may mean a personal best. And when I got my finishing token I saw I had finished 116th; much better than last week’s 129th! But maybe last week had just had more runners? I would find out later that day. (And the answer was: no! It had been me. I had been 51 seconds faster than last week. And the man who had been my pacemaker the week before had finished 1.5 minute later than me. And this time I had been 10th woman! Wow, a place in the top 10, I could see this get addictive…)

The breathing man, who turned out to be called Mike, struck up a conversation again. He tried to convince me to join his running club. I recognised its name; it was the same one as my caving mates were with! I explained I did not expect to stay in York for very long, so joining an actual club might be overdoing it. But I might see him next week; as long as I am in York I may well see the advantage of these weekly races!