31 March 2014

The last week in York

It was a busy week! So busy I didn’t blog much. I had other things to do. I had to finish the iGlass lab work, I had to make a reference collection so I wouldn’t forget what taxonomic decisions I had made, I had to transfer all my data to Roland so he and all the other project members (both projects!) could continue without me, even though I won’t be really gone. And I had to empty my office. And then say goodbye to everyone. And that was only the work bit… 

 Goodbye, Environment Department!

In my last week, on Monday my PhD friends took me for a last dinner. On Tuesday, I had my last pub night with the YCC. On Wednesday, I finally had some time to prepare a bit for the move. And on Thursday I had my last night with Rich. And then Friday arrived. 

 Lovely last pints with my friends in a vaulted York pub...

Friday was a weird day. At 9AM the removal lorry would arrive. That meant there was not much time for anything social. But it was almost a goodbye! And then there was a knock. Time was up…
I pointed the men in the right direction, and they set off to work. They seemed to know what they were doing so Rich and I could leave. We said goodbye by the river. Then I drove off. Go west, young woman…

27 March 2014

Finishing the North

When I moved north, I decided I should learn about my new surroundings. I bought books with various northern topics. But then I didn't stay very long... tomorrow I move house. Earlier this week I managed to finish both boreal books I had been reading. My mind is cleared now; space for Wales!

25 March 2014

Last dig

I move house this Friday. This Wednesday I probably have preparations to take care of. And these shouldn't include getting absolutely soaked in mud from head to toe, and get home between 23PM and midnight. So that week I'm not digging. Which means that last week's dig was the last one.

I hadn't been through the new bit, which had been discovered three weeks before. That very night news of the breakthrough only reached us when it was beer o'clock. We wanted to keep that excitement to another, fresher day! But that day came, and was fresher for most, but not for me, as I was in bed with tonsillitis. The week after I was still iffy, and still unable to speak, which didn't seem like the ideal circumstances for lying in the mud in narrow passages. So tonight would be my first chance, but everybody else had already seen it.

When I came to the meeting place many cars were already there. It turned out the others had already found yet another focus, and would not even go into the very cave. Oh well. Rich was more than willing to chaperone me to the end. So we kitted up, and squirmed our way to the boulder choke. And from there on, all was new! For me, that is. I clambered through the scaffolding and saw up close what I had only glimpsed from between the rocks. A sizable space! Leading on to another. And a passage leading on from there. And more passages and chambers. And even a small climb. We first tried the hard way, but when hand-holds broke off under my weight we decided to take the bolted route. The chaps hadn't held back in customizing this place! And after the final passage-cum-slide we reached the furthest chamber.

Some pictures, taken by Gary, of the exploration done when I was ill. My camera refused service, so I couldn't take any pics myself!

Altogether it is quite an extensive addition! And left and right you could see potential passages, waiting to be dug, and some clearly already in the early stages of exploration. Exciting! But all further developments I will have to hear of online. But I hope to sometimes be back! When the two caves are finally connected, for instance... how much longer?

Back in the pub a surprise awaited me. The guys had sourced a game of Jenga, the game after which the cave is named (a reference to its structural integrity), and they used the time spent drinking signing every brick of it with their names, the names of the various chambers and passages of the cave, and with some other involved phenomena. So sweet! There was no official stuff with speeches and such; this is not that kind of club. But I managed to get a hug from every single one of the men. They are a bunch of daft people, but I'll miss them dearly!

 Six of the diggers: Matt, Andy, Laura, Sparky, Richard and Chalky

The Jenga game. I had to perform a rather strict selection when picking those bricks of which the text can be read; I boycotted all those with swearing and/or nudity. And all text written in silver, as it is largely illegible except form close distance...

21 March 2014

Visit by sister

Soon I'll start a new job and have a lot on my mind. My sister starts a new job on the same day (the copycat!) and the same holds for her. So we decided it might be a good idea if she visits me before I leave for Wales. And we picked the second last weekend for it. The last one would be too consumed by house-moving issues! And the fieldwork got a bit in the way, but it was foggy on Schiphol so by the time she texted (to my relief) that I had a nice house, I was already well on my way east. I was back at the university when my sister had only been in town for a fairly short time. I phoned her; she was at Clifford's tower, so that was where I found her. We wasted no time; minutes later we were in the Red Lion for a pint. Or two!

We had quite a lot to catch up on. New jobs, new schools for her kids, relationships being forged and lost. Prowess on football field, at piano, and underground. We were in no hurry! And I suppose my sister with her multitude of children and busy life doesn't get that many nights in the pub... But I had spent the day in the field, and at some point I did feel the need to get something into my stomach, so we went home. Pasta followed. And then an old-fashioned sister session with letting each other listen to music we liked. But then it was bedtime.

The next day was for ogling a Yorkshire abbey. There are more than you can shake a stick at! But I hadn't seen a single one. We picked Rievaulx, and we found a 10km walk that incorporated it. Off north we went! We took the scenic route.

Rievaulx Abbey

Sister on ruins

The had a look at the abbey first. A magnificent building! Or rather, the remains thereof. And it was a lovely day for scrutinizing it. And when we'd seen enough we had a cup of coffee and then set off on our walk. The route was festooned with deer and mountain-biking orienteerers. And in good time we were back at the car. Time to go home, flag down Rich, eat and get ready to get to Abi for a beer-tasting session. I only have two bicycles, but fortunately my sister and me are Dutch, so that was enough. It turned out the beer tasting had been an excuse; it was a goodbye party! I have such lovely friends. But of course we did do some beer-tasting when we were there anyway. With as the most unexpected one: a 35% beer! Rather special. And at the end of the night my sister effortlessly biked me back home. Of course!

 Rievaulx Bridge

She might be able to offer her sister a backie after a night of boozing and pull it off, but the next day my sister didn't appear too early. We took it easy! Buckets of coffee and relaxed brunch. But it was amazing weather and we should really go and enjoy it. Petra suggested me might actually do something quite different; go into Jenga! She was curious to find out what she would think of it. But a round of phone calls revealed there were no people with keys around.So the idea was good but it wasn't going to happen! So we chose to get out into the sun instead. We decided to not drive anywhere but just walk from the front door. We trundled to Bishopthorpe via Rowntree Park. In Bishopthorpe we stopped for a mid-walk pint in the sun. It's spring!


Back in York we said goodbye to Rich and went for dinner. Time for a properly English pie! And then some more beer. There's a theme here. Although it was mostly me; my sister would switch to tea or fruit juice at some point every evening. And then it was time to call it a day. For the last time!

She would fly Monday afternoon, and would have to get a train around 1PM to catch it. So we still had time for one more excursion. And we chose the Castle museum. A good choice, if I may say so! I liked the reconstructed rooms and streets. And some underground dungeons are always a hit with me. But then it was time to go home, have lunch, and go to the railway station. Time to go back to normal! That evening, my sister would be back at home, greeted by the whole family. And less than half an hour after the goodbye I would be back in the office. Soon we'll have our new jobs so what's normal now won't be normal for long. But it was good to catch up before that would happen!

Victorian street in the Castle Museum

19 March 2014

Fieldwork in the Lakes District

When I had to lecture on British land ice, I asked our in-house glaciologist, Dave, if he had any topical pictures I could perhaps incorporate into the presentation. And he did! And when he then had to organise a fieldwork in the Lakes District, which makes the students contemplate the local ice cover, and have an attempt at reconstructing it, he knew where to find an extra pair of staff hands. He would ideally have five members of staff on this trip; he only had three. Would I perhaps be willing to join? Or in other words: would I be willing to, instead of spending my time in the lab or the office, be paid for scampering around a beautiful landscape with lovely people? And while at it, prepare for my new job? Now let me think...

There is no such thing as a free lunch, of course. There were drawbacks: one, it took two days out of my preparation to leave; two, it meant my sister, who would be visiting over the weekend, would have to spend the first few hours alone; and three, that I had to leave home at 5.30AM latest on the Thursday, as we would leave the campus at 6AM sharp. But all of that would be well worth it.

I biked to work in the thick mist. The other staff were already at the department, and so were many of the students. Without incident we got on our way. The only thing we were worrying about was the fog; if that would be omnipresent in the fieldwork area we wouldn't be able to see a thing, and we'd travelled for hours to do the whole exercise off the map! That would be a waste.

 What York looked like when I biked to work that day

The students setting off into the valley

We reached Langdale. And we walked along the river all the way to the valley head. And then headed up the hill to Langdale Combe, a sort of hanging valley close to the valley top. And while we did that the fog retreated, revealing amazing views of a classic U-shaped valley with nicely curvaceous moraines scattered about. A lovely place to contemplate ice!

 Heading up the side of the valley

The U-shaped valley appeared out of the mist

Once we were at Langdale Combe the students split into groups. They each devised a strategy for categorizing the moraines, which probably held the clue to in what way the valley had been glaciated, but which were too numerous to all scrutinize, and too irregular to be measured in an easy way. Once their pattern would be revealed, would they indicate an ice sheet, or valley glaciers?

 Langdale Combe. Notice the students which look like dots!

My group were very switched on, and set to work immediately. And also broke the tape measure immediately (it had been suspiciously cheap!). We had until 2PM to do our measurements. And the students didn't even stop for lunch. My job was easy; sometimes I questions some of their assumptions, or asked leading questions if they were about to measure something in a way that would dictate the outcome. But generally, I just pottered around in the sun and had a nice time. They could well look after themselves!

Some local vegetation

We even had a view on snowy hilltops

In good time we gathered again, and went back down the valley. We made sure we had plenty of time to get back to the bus; in case we would be early we would just have to resort to drinking a pint in the pub. Oh dear. Life is hard.

After the pint in question we went to the youth hostel we would stay in. There was a run on the showers and then dinner was served. Many of the students then went into Ambleside to try out the local pubs, but the staff, being old and tired, just had a few pints in the hostel bar and then called it a day. Two of us would have to share a room; Dave had one for himself as the module leader, and Debs, one of the lab techs, got one because she claimed to snore. That left me to share with Maria. I know I don't make sounds when I sleep, and she claims the same, so that sounded fine. Our room turned out to have a view over Windermere. All was well! Except that Maria had picked up a cold that day. And that makes her snore. Oh well. It was still later when that woke me up than I had had to get up the day before...

 The view from our hotel room

The second day started comfortably late. We would get back to the same valley, and there try to establish the thickness of the glacier over the entire length of the valley, or at least that part of it that had not been filled up with fluvial sediments afterwards. Again it was foggy, but again the fog lifted before it got too much in the way. I had the same group of students as the day before, and again they barely need me. Excellent!

We were going downstream. And the students worked like a well-oiled measuring machine, even while the weather deteriorated. Soon we saw the group that was coming our way; when we would meet, the job would be done. The other group did not only offer the the end of the working day, but also some entertainment: one of their girls misjudged her footing when jumping over a stream, and sank down to her thigh into the swampy gunk. It took a while to wiggle her loose, and then her shoe had to be dug out! Fortunately, not only the onlookers, but the girl herself as well, saw the humour of the situation. And when she was reunited with her shoe we went back to the pub, and from there to the bus. And back to university.

 Measuring with a tape that doesn't wind up anymore

I have never had so little to do on a day in the field. The students did their own stuff! Which is how it should be, but evidently not always how it really is. But with these switched-on students, the nice other staff, and the beautiful valley this is surely going down into the books as a very good fieldwork! I would love to say: next year again, but that of course is not topical. But only months from now I'll be taking Welsh students into the field! Let's hope they are as enthusiastic and independent as the York bunch...

17 March 2014

The crash is still near

I don't have three different (sets of) guests within one and the same week very often. And it was almost four! But one found an empty house to stay in. And it was lovely to have so many, but there was an interesting trend among them. We're several years after the financial crash, but its effects have anything but faded away. All three had been made redundant in the recent past. One was still looking for a new job, one had just been offered a new one, and one had only just heard he would be redundant and still had some months to go before he would actually be out of work. It's not just me who has employment on their mind! The crisis is still very close. And it will work out for all my guests I'm sure. But these are not times to relax

15 March 2014

Weekend of recuperation and enjoyment

I had to stay at home for three days. The inflammation in my throat had not only robbed me of a voice, but also of energy. I slept most of the first day, and quite some of the second day too. On Friday, I dared go back to work, although it wasn't my most productive day ever. So the weekend was for still taking things easy! And given that my days in York are counted it was extra nice I was still so feeble I felt no Calvinistic guilt at just hanging out with friends instead of doggedly doing chores.

The weekend started early; Owain was in town, and we were going for dinner with a bunch of friends. Rich joined; it was time he met my York University friends. In spite of my silence it was a nice dinner. And those who were healthier than me would hit town after dinner, but that was still a bit too much for me. But on Saturday morning we reconvened for brunch. And on Sunday we reconvened for coffee. And then Owain left again. But it was such a beautiful day! Tom had a spiffing idea; a bike ride to Beningbrough Hall. It's only 10 miles, so not too strenuous on the recovering body, but far enough to get some sunshine. So we set off! And had a nice cup of tea on the grass next to the farm shop.

Beningbrough Hall
No shortage of spiffing men: Rich and Tom

We had to go back, as more guests were expected: Lionel and Corinne appeared again. They stayed for another two nights! That was lovely; I had to work during the day, but it's nice to be dragged into town by friends as you as you leave the office. They come to Yorkshire a lot,and I won't see them there again, but Lionel has a lot of underground reasons to come to Bangor too. So I trust I'll see them there as well!

By the time I kissed Lionel and Corinne goodbye I still couldn't talk, but at least I had had a lovely, recuperative weekend. And I just hoped that would get me back to my talking self during the upcoming fieldwork in the Lakes District! 

11 March 2014

Silent week

I’m fairly used to being mute for a day or two. It is a humbling experience; suddenly you can only hurl your opinions into the world at the speed at which you can write, and get others to read what you’re written. If your phone rings you have to either just let it ring, or get someone else to answer it for you. You need help a lot. Pointing and smiling isn’t always enough. So losing my voice some twice a year might save me from taking my normal vociferousness for granted. But this time, it’s going a bit far. Normally I only lose my voice completely for a day or two. When I write this it’s already been a week. An entire week of muteness! It’s not funny anymore. And a few days from now I’m going on fieldwork with some 35 students. I might have to invest in cue cards…

 For those who wonder why I have a picture of almonds in a post about tonsils: in Dutch, the same word is used for both...

10 March 2014

Forgotten milestones

Last autumn I noticed I had almost driven 10.000 miles with my car. And that it will turn 20 this spring. If there is ever anything you should celebrate with your car it would be such things I suppose!

I bought my by now trusted Fiesta when I acquired a 2-year contract in the UK. As the cars here evidently have the steering wheel on a funny side, I did not want to invest too much in a car; who knew where my next contract would be! It might very well be on the continent, and then you don't want to have a silly British car. So I went for a specimen that would carry me through these two years, but not necessarily beyond. But then my next contract was in the UK as well. And the next. And the next! And the reliable little thing happily survived all this way. With some encouragement in the form of expensive repairs, but to be fair: quite a lot of that was in response to vandalism. Not something you can blame on the car.

And then suddenly the car was in demand. It took two cavers to the Dales and back, and it took me to Bangor and back. And without me even noticing it I passed the 10.000 mile mark! (It still has less than 100.000 on the counter, though!) So even though I don't like driving I covered a distance like from Amsterdam to Sydney in this rusty little thing. No small feat!

And during its 20th birthday I will be in Vienna, probably thinking of entirely different things. Fortunately, the car is an inanimate object; otherwise I think I would have some explaining to do!

07 March 2014

Cell division with beds

It’s a hassle to take the panes out of your windows in order to get your spare bed into your house. It’s even more of a pain to get it out of the house the same way. The bed I had bought was so high it couldn’t come up the stairs or through the window, but there was no specific reason why it would have to be that high. As soon as it arrived I figured I had to lower it. Moving house is enough of a hassle without having to take the house apart to let the furniture through! So one day when I had help from Rich we set to work. We turned the bed on its side, and took all the staples out that kept the plastic at the bottom and the cloth on the sides in place. Some people seem to get rather staple-addicted! But we managed. And then we simply sawed the wooden construction in halves. The bottom half, which could easily be a bed in its own right, can go into someone’s wood burner, and the top half remains bed! We screwed the cloth back into position to make the whole look tidy and voila; a bed that fits down the stairs! And my new place will be in such a beautiful corner of the country I bet I’ll have use for a spare bed…

The bed, half its original size. This way it fits down the stairs and out the door!

 The other half. 

And what it looked like later. Ready for a new life as firewood!

04 March 2014


The first time I ever went into the local dig, called Jenga, I went all the way to the boulder choke at the end. It was the most promising lead in the cave! It may well connect to its neighbouring cave  Excalibur. Connecting these was the whole point of the dig. But we had spent months and months blowing up rocks, cleaning up the mess, stabilizing what was left with scaffolding, and not being able to get anywhere near the place due to flooding. So I had still not been though! Nor had any of us, for that matter.

After the very very wet period that kept me out of my running route too we figured we could give it a try again. When I got to the venue that time most people were already underground. Rich and I went in and headed straight for the boulder choke, where we found Matt and Gary, scaffolding away. It looked like they could keep that up forever, so we decided to go back and joined the others who were shifting mud somewhere for no obvious reason. By the time we were all properly wet, tired, cold and at least 20 kg heavier due to the sticky mud Matt and Gary appeared again. They had had breakthrough! Did we want to go and see? But we left it to the next time. It was time to head out, get clean, and have a pint. Next week’s trip would be exhilarating!

...and it probably will be. But not for me! I got my periodical tonsillitis/laryngitis attack again. The last time that happened it was only the latter, but this time the tonsils are very much involved. I will have to let this trip go! And get all the excitement the week after, hopefully....