30 May 2014

House fully warmed

I had tried to organise a housewarming for all my close colleagues back in April. But my office mate Paul hadn't been able to make it and James pulled out, so I wanted to have another go at it. It wouldn't be the first time I warm my house in shifts. And by the time I managed to pin both men down for a date I had another office mate: Juan, a Puerto Rican. So one Saturday evening I welcomed four tired guests and colleagues in my house. Paul, Stella and Juan had just been through a week-long summer school, and pretty much only had this evening with me to rest; three days later they would be off on a cruise, for which not all organisation had finished. And James had just come back from Ireland where he had been an external examiner.

I had decided to make them Nasi Goreng; a staple of Dutch food, but largely unknown in this country. But the supermarket on the mainland is so big they sell nasi goreng spices, and satay sauce. And prawn crackers. I was going the whole way with pisang goreng and fried egg and all! If I make it for myself I don't bother with all the bells and whistles...

File:Nasi Goreng Sosis.jpg
 This is what my nasi most definitely did NOT look like

They all arrived dripping, and of course the Caribbean arrived the last. It was a nice evening! It might have been late May but it was an evening for the gas stove, candles, and dark beer. And the food went down well! Juan even remarked he would never want a banana raw after having had pisang goreng. And at around ten they all went home. To bed, one hopes! Now my house is properly warmed. Maybe I'll find an opportunity to add another warming for the Thursday Nighters, although none of these live as conveniently close by!

29 May 2014

Weekend run in the rain

Sometimes one is a bit more motivated to do a run than at other times. When the rain is slamming against the windows it takes some self discipline to go out! But one should not be discouraged. I had had my eye on a nearby wood (Pentraeth Wood) for bad weather running, and now it was time to try it out. I drove up, found a parking spot, and was off. Slithering and sliding over the path! I should have gone on my off-road shoes!

The path leading uphill

When a path went off to the right and uphill I took it; maybe higher ground would be less slippery. But it got better: it lead to a forestry track. That is solid ground! Then you can actually run, rather than just doing a balancing act.So I followed it, sometimes diving into paths on the side, on which I would just turn back when it got too slippery. I sometimes had nice views out of the woods, over the fields and the sea, and onto Snowdonia. And the wood itself was rather pretty, with lots of flowers. Maybe no the best day for a run but it worked out well!

If you look closely you see Snowdonia in the distance. Notice as well the unusually large amount of clothing for a May run.

Spring flowers!

28 May 2014

Frustrated exploration

I hadn't really recovered from last week's underground trip. I had been home late, in a week when I had got up early for my run rather often, and work was hectic! That tends to do me in. But I was still keen to repeat the exercise. So much unexplored territory lay waiting for us! So on Thursday we went through the usual routine of assembling the Anglesey contingent and driving to the meeting point, all bristling with excitement. And there a chap that some us of already knew showed up. He didn't do SRT! Oh dear. Now what? No way you could get to our exciting finds without dangling from a rope. And he had come all the way from the USA. We could hardly tell him to amuse himself while we vanished down a hole! So reluctantly we decided to leave our rope kit behind and all stay on the level we would come in on (where I had previously been with the PCG). It was a disappointment, but at least I figured we would get out earlier, and I would not be in bed so late. But I would have to think again.

We went in and walked along the main stope. Soon a hole in the ground was seen, of which I didn't know where it went. I checked! That is the advantage of staying in familiar ground; you have the time to check out odd nooks and crannies. The hole lead back to underneath the false floor we had come on, but only for those who were willing to clamber over a pile of rotting wood that had come down, and of which it wasn't clear what it was resting on. I gave it a miss! We continued along the stope.

Soon three of the men were doodling behind. I took some pics to keep myself busy. We also tried a few winzes going up, but you never can go far; you just end up in the stope. But we had some clambering fun, with the apex when I was standing on some rusty piping, with Paul more or less standing on my shoulders, and Dave handing us my camera and his torch so Paul could take a picture of the stope. Good, responsible fun!

The main stope

Paul got bored and decided to have a candle-lit dinner with himself

Amazing timbering in the stope

We continued. We briefly checked out a passage leading off to the side, but that was collapse-a-gogo, so we didn't venture far. At last we came to a crawl leading to a ladderway going up. I knew there was a flatrod at the top, but I had not followed that to the other side, where there seemed to be a balance bob. So eager for some new ground I clambered up. And slithered past the flatrod. And came out on the other side! I was followed by Dave and Phil; the others didn't like the look of the ladders, and started making their way back.

It was a beautiful shaft, with big pipes and rods and whatnot. A flatrod is used for transport of power, and power, in a mine, is often found at the top of a shaft in the shape of a team engine or a water wheel. You can use that power for hauling up the ore, but if you can cart that out through the side that's easier. You might still need the power to drain the mine. Hence the big pipes! Why they clumsily transported some of the power to another vertical opening a few tens of metres away I don't know. But they sure did.

We pootled around a bit, took some pics, admired some of the wildlife that must have fallen down an opening in the capping of the shaft (some 3 toads, some 8 frogs, and a cute little newt) and, when it came to the men, discussed at length how the whole construction must have worked. Then we went back. With the newt in bubblewrap in a bag! It was going to be saved. We didn't have many suitable amphibian carriers, so we had to be selective, and I had only once seen a newt before in my life (also underground!), so I suspected it of being a lot rarer than the frogs and toads. I was back at the main level past ten. Time to get out! We weren't doing anything spectacular, so it wasn't worth getting to bed very late for it, and being a wreck at work on Friday. But the men were lingering. I walked on, and found the other two. I told these too I wanted to get out. But soon I found my self all alone near the entrance. Hints clearly didn't help! I walked back, and told all of the men in no uncertain terms I wanted to get out and go home. I couldn't leave without my passengers! It barely helped. Soon I found myself alone at the entrance again. Tsk!

 The flat rod

The shaft with the rod and the piping. And all the amphibians, but these are not in the picture. Pic by David.

When they finally appeared we first had to find the newt a new home. I had scouted a puddle nearby. It seemed content! Then we went back to the cars and got changed. I had to keep harassing my passengers as they were keener on checking their email and exchanging long goodbyes to the American than on getting ready to leave. But finally we were off! As is becoming a tradition Dave shared his bananas with the whole car. And around midnight we were back at the School's parking lot. Let's hope next week nothing comes in the way of our explorative plans!

Our newt guest

27 May 2014

To the Gorsaf Bleidleisio

I had personally delivered the confirmation of my change of address to the electoral office. So I eagerly awaited a polling card! But nothing came. The day before the elections I decided to phone. Yes, they said, it had all come through and I was ready to vote! I asked where, and they said in the primary school in Menai Bridge. So there I went.

It was a Thursday. That meant I would go stright underground form work. And not be back until late! And I would drive to work. Altogether it would be best if I would vote first thing, unhindered by bulky cars. So I took my passport when I went for my run. I got to the polling station (gorsaf bleidleisio; one has to be biligual here) a few minutes after it opened, and voted in my running kit. The chap warned me it was a big polling card. Yes, by British standards! He's probably never seen a Dutch one.

I voted (green!) and continued my run. And my one vote couldn't stop the wave of anti-European votes, but it was all I could do. And now we'll have to see how things develop. As I seem to not really have much talent for leaving this country, I could very well still be here during a referendum about the UK perhaps leaving the EU. And that won't happen overnight, but it's not unthinkable that if it does happen, it'll have very practical implcations for people like me. But let's first see how the EU develops in general; it's not looking good. Will we end up divided, and unable to make a stand in the world? It sure looks like it... The EU; such a good idea, but perhaps not built to withstand the lower urges people are governed by...

26 May 2014

String of repairs

I sometimes think I spend half my spare time repairing things. Cars, bicycles, cameras, clothes, caving kit... And even cheese slicers, cables and bike lights! Sometimes I don't think, in hindsight, it was a very economical thing to do; my time is not free, after all. But I do take pride in keeping things going. And you can also see repair as an investment in one's skills! Yes, I spent hours on repairing a wetsuit that was just a free hand-me-down... but I have learned some do's and don't's (brr, ugly accumulation of apostrophes) of neoprene repair. And I keep the old ragged thing in business for a while more! At least that keeps the carbon footprint of my cold water adventures nice and low!

The red bike now has mud guards! Maybe rather an addition than a repair, but I think it counts.

The patch on the inside of my wetsuit. I had tried to make it a shape that accommodates the bum-shape of the suit. Only afterwards I saw maybe my design was a bit unfortunate!

Modest Sugru repairs 

 More sugru

A sports bra with a new clasp

25 May 2014


The survival training took place in Fleetwood, just north of Blackpool. This town has a rather strong reputation in Britain; it is perhaps the most famous old seaside resort, with its hayday in the late 19th Century, when most Britons took their holidays in their own country. As they don't anymore Blackpool's demise was probably inevitable. And a lot of effort has been made to revive the place, but still, when you mention you will go to Blackpool people are likely to make comments that involve ladies with less skin coverage than the weather justifies, rough pubs, and depressing cityscapes. I was keen to see for myself, but also keen to keep my involvement rather minimal! I booked a hotel along the sea front and hoped for the best.

When I came back from the training it was already late, and I was considering making things easy on myself and having dinner in the hotel itself. But as soon as I opened the door I decided against. The lounge was full of elderly people listening to a chap belting out Neil Sedaka songs and similar crowd-pleasers. I didn't know how quickly I should drop my bag and head for town! And while walking south I enjoyed the eerie light of a thunderstorm on the horizon.

This is an unedited picture! Unfortunately I didn't manage to catch lightning with my camera.

I reached what seemed to be the nearest hub of nutrition. I saw several takeways and some chippies. I was hoping to sit down! I had already resigned myself to some quick grub at a neon-lit formica table (welcome to Blackpool!) when I saw a friendly-looking Italian restaurant. That saved me! There were hardly any guests, but hey, it was a monday, after 9PM. The waiters had all the time in the world for me. When they found out I was Dutch they swapped to Italian. Everybody knows the Dutch are polyglots! We settled on Spanish as an acceptable compromise. It was nice food. But when I got back to the hotel the singer (announced as "top class entertainment" on posters on the wall) was still belting away. Oh no! I wanted to sleep! And the pensioners listening to him were soon found out to be of dubious health - I was woken up by the coughing of the gentleman who, by the sound of it, had the hotel room above mine.

 A dead denizen on the beach

The next morning I went for a run. First on the beach, but the sand was soft, and heavy to run on, so I retreated to the top of the sea wall. Even though I grew up in a country with more sandy beaches than you can shake a stick at, I saw why Blackpool had, in its day, attracted so many people. It was a quite nice beach!

I ran until I had a reasonable view on the famous Blackpool Tower, which was quite a distance further south. I got the pier for free with it. And then I turned around - close enough to beach pavilions and fancy fairs for me! And then I left. I figured I knew enough!

24 May 2014

Personal Survival Techniques

My current employer wants me to live! Such a heart-warming thought. They even want me to survive being at sea for six weeks. And even if something goes wrong. So they sent me off to the Fleetwood Offshore Survival Centre (FOSC) for a Personal Survival Techniques training. It sounded like fun! But have you not been to sea before, you may ask? And would your employer at the time not have liked you to survive? Well, my first cruise was on a French ship, so they would just have a glass of wine and assume all will be well. Being allowed to join German and Norwegian cruises without safety training is a bit more surprising. The Norwegians are in general not risk-averse at all; au contraire, they all go off-piste skiing, in the dark of needs be, and climbing and sea-kayakking in high winds and when they are hungry they go and catch a cod from a rickety boat or they go to the nearest reindeer herder and buy half a carcass and make it into a meal. Well maybe not all, but in Arctic Norway, there are a whole lot of people around for whom all of that is perfectly normal. So maybe that's why. I'm not sure about the Germans!

The Brits, however, don't like taking chances. And that is annoying in general, but this time it worked out well for me. Off I went to Fleetwood! Pretty much everybody else who would be on the cruise had already done the training, so I would go alone. But somewhat prepared; I had heard all the stories of being lectured on things such as hugging full sick bags to fight off hypothermia, jumping into the pool from high up, clumsily clambering into safety rafts, trying to keep warm in the water (which, I was warmed, involved rather high levels of intimacy) and whatnot. Not all of it sounded like fun! But most surely did!

The nautical campus

I sat down in the campus canteen. Some people who looked like they were not cadets were there too; they may have come for the same thing! But they looked grumpy so I didn't approach them. And when a chap showed up to take us to the lectuyre room it turned out they indeed were also PST cases.

We sat down. The course started easy; they took some 4 hours to tell us about what to do in case of an emergency. Things such as: if an alarm sounds, put warm clothing on if you can; once you get to a muster point, don't leave it unless instructed to do so; don't jump into a life raft, what will you find inside a life raft, how will a life raft deploy itself if the ship goes down so fast you didn't manage to do it, and all such things. Not really 4 hours' worth of knowledge! But fortunately it was an engaging teacher. And he was not in favour of hugging vomit! That was a relief.

When he was done we all did a quick oral exam. We all passed! As expected; the guy had had enough time to prepare us and getting the knowledge lodged firmly in our heads. It was a doddle!

And then the fun started. We were taken to the pool. We were told to change into our swimming gear, and put a (provided) boiler suit over the top. They talked us through a few more things, let us deploy a life raft, and then it was time to get wet! We got into survival suits (hot!!) and buoyancy aids and were told to step into the pool from 3m high. I never liked the 3m board as a child! I still don't! But a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do so I was the first to get in. They had rightly warned us about the risk of being punched in the chin by your life vest upon impact. I write this with a slightly sore jaw! But that was a detail, and it was all fine. And in an emergency you have other things to worry about...

Relieved we got out of the survival suits. Fine in the atlantic; not so fine in a heated room! But we kept the life vests. And with these we first did the surviving in the water exercise. How to not lose heat on your own! How to swim in a life vest, being generously sprayed with cold water! How to swim in chains of two or three, still being generously sprayed with water! And there the intimacies already started. You make a chain by grasping someone's waiste with your legs! I was glad to have found a very friendly cruise hostess to chain up with. And we were demonstrably a good pair - we outswam all the males at every single time. And then the keeping warm in pairs happened. I could see why that could get uncomfortable; you can't all be paired up with someone with whom you're perfecly happy to do that! But this was not a coffee break; this was survival training.

After this exercise we practiced righting an overturned life raft, and getting in. And what to do once you're in. In the end we all ended up in the water; we made a ring in order to stay warm. And below the water line that was alright; everything that stuck out was mercilessly hosed down! I really wanted to protect my head, but as I was holding on to the people next to me I didn't have any hands free. Nobody had. And one by one we separated from the ring, and were winched up by the kind of winch a helicopter would have. And then we were whisked off into the men's changing room. Time for the piece de resistance!

A pic from Wikipedia of a similar training. I didn't have a camera on me!

Being in changing room, smost of us took the opportunity to stand under a hot shower for a bit; many were shivering. That was my chance of a shower in the men's! I took it. We were told we would hear an alarm, go up the stairs, get into our life jackets, jump off the height again but this time in a simulated emergency situation in the dark and with smoke and noise and waves and rain and whatnot. Then we had to form two rings, and then later get into two life rafts. It didn't really go like that; we didn't hear the alarm, so one of the instructors had to go and get us. But otherwise it worked! The darkness and noise and smoke really added to the atmosphere, although it's not enough to make things intimidating. And bobbing up and down is quite different when the wave machines are on. Soon we were in a big circle; the plan of making two (for more heat efficiency) had failed. Individuals clearly prefer to join an existing circle rather than starting a new one! And then the rafts were "discovered", and we all clambered in. I regretted getting in soonish; I immediately felt this would be just the place to get seasick. I stuck my head out to play look-out; that helped! When we were all in and had evaluated what we would now do we were all let out before the vomiting would start. We were done!

After a shower we got our certificates in the canteen. And then it was 20:30; we all vanished abruptly. Some to get home before it got too late, and me to go and find something to eat. After all that I could do with a nice meal! I chose spicy bean soup as my starter; after all that adventure involving cold water I felt like some comfort food, even in mid May...

23 May 2014

Practice run of field day

Coming February I have to take the 1st year students into the field, to a Cwm Idwal; a small valley in Snowdonia. Why in February, you may ask? Well, timetabling works in mysterious ways. The trip seems to get cancelled rather often, due to horizontal sleet or the likes. But then there was the ARAMACC summerschool, organised by my office mate Paul. He is quite into long-living shells, and the climate signal in their annual growth bands. So much actually, he organised a whole summer school to teach a whole bunch of European PhD students how to extract these climate records from the creatures. And he would look after their general education too; the Snowdonia field day was seamlessly incorporated in the programme. And they had space in the minibus for me too! And if you can have something you have to teach to others first taught to yourself, especially if it is by the best, then you shouldn't let that opportunity slip! So on a Sunday afternoon I joined the clammy throng.

It was a beautiful day. James drove us to the Ogwen Warden Centre, and walked us up the hill, pointing out sharpening-stone quarries, a mountain Edmund Hillary had trained on, and the beautiful U-shaped glacial valley that lay below us. He then spoke of the history of Earth Science; of Darwin doing fieldwork in this very valley, of the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian all having names that originated in this area, and of how easy it is to miss things if you don't expect them. He also spoke of the road we had come on, its history and engineering challenges. We walked further.

James leading the way through a gap where rock good for sharpening tools has been quarried away

The entire group in the hills

Cwm Idwal

He talked of the special plants that grow here and pretty much nowhere else, and of botanic experiments to reconstruct the vegetation that prevailed here before deforestation and grazing, and he pointed out the structural and geomorphologic features of the valley.

After we passed some very handsome cattle he spoke of moraines, and of the Younger Dryas. And of the various soils found in this one small valley. And we admired some climbers on the Idwal slabs.

 Handsome grazer

At the end, he pointed out some glacial erratics that had first been described by Charles Darwin, and that were still known as Darwin's rocks. There he suggested a group picture; as I was the cuckoo in the nest I volunteered for taking that. He gave me his phone to take it with. But everybody wanted a picture, so I kept having phones and cameras shoved into my trouser pockets until I was a veritable electronics shop. And then we went back! I had learned a lot. I don't think I can equal James with his calm, endlessly knowledgeable authority when it's my turn in February, but I sure will do my best!

The Idwal slabs, with climbers on them

22 May 2014

Getting ready to teach

As soon as the new academic year starts I will have to start teaching like I've never taught before. I will have to do lectures, fieldworks, practicals, exams, tutorials and whatnot. The whole shebang! And some of the lectures I'll have to deliver concern stuff I know quite a lot about, but there is also a fair bit I'll have to first teach myself. A lot of work!

One of the tomes I got from the library to help me on my quest to knowledge

I don't have to start from scratch; I have the powerpoint presentations of my predecessors, but the bad news is that these contain a lot of pictures and not much words. Which in itself is good; one doesn't want to swamp one's slides in text, but if you just have a picture of an iceberg, or of a map with unidentified isolines on it, and no reference or key or nothing, it can be difficult to find out why that pictures is there. And if I can't find out the picture has to go. And then I have to decide myself what knowledge is missing in the lecture, and put it back in myself, and that's quite a lot of work too. And it's not all lost; I also got my predecessor's notes, so that explains a fair bit.

Then there is also the issue of a fair percentage of the pictures stemming straight from the eighties. I don't think you can really show these to modern students! So I have a lot to do. And I have to manage that before September, while also doing a fieldwork and a six weeks scientific cruise in between. And prepare for that cruise, and manage to revise my Iceland paper. I think quite some other things will have to be sacrificed in the coming months!

21 May 2014

Moreish mine

This was a week for visiting mines I'd been before I'd moved to Wales! We'd done Rhosydd on Sunday, and we would do another mine I'd done on my lasst PCG Wales trip on a Thursday night. There initially was talk of all sorts of people joining us, but in the end it was just five of us. Four regulars and a chap called Rob. We thought we might go down a ladderway and have a look at the lowest level that wasn't flooded. Sounded fine!

We got in and reached the junction where, with the PCG, we had gone right. I thought we would again; I thought we'd do the same ladderway! But no. We went left. To a laddered winze, rather than the rather exposed ladders in the middle of the lode. The winze ended in a drop with no ladder; there was a handline, and there were metal pipes going down. I decided to just slide down the pipes! That was fun.

Phil looking up the winze, where Paul is considering his options for coming down

We then dropped down another winze, which ended in an ore chute, or in other words: a slide! That was fun. Then we were at the level we had aimed for. And we took a walk. Rather soon we found a level that started to slope down. The incline was flooded, but Dave shining a torch in showed there was a wagon in it! None of the chaps had noticed that before.

 The submerged wagon

Further on we found a row of chutes that had lots of water coming out. We clambered up there, finding some more terrain unknown to us (all of it unknown to me!) and lots of fun was had. Dave suggested we'd walk to the end of the adit, in which the water gets deeper and deeper, and then go back out, so we did.

The very wet ore chutes

I saw daylight at the end. I wanted to check that out! I walked in. Most of the men had kept their feet dry, and weren't very keen to follow. Paul, who also wears low boots, followed after some hesitation. The daylight came from a big hole in the ground, probably originally a main entrance of the mine. Nice! I also saw bricked-up, but breached, passages to both the left and the right, but I knew there were people waiting for me, so I ignored them. I reported back what I had seen, but then Dave wanted to know what was behind these brick walls. Well, if you WANT me to have a look...! Paul didn't want to come along; he gave an evaluation of the apparent temperature of his sensitive organs and saw no reason to lower that value even further.

I tried the one on the right first. It was a small hole, high up in the wall. It was a bit awkward to clamber through! Maybe best nobody was watching. But I managed, and had a look; it went on for quite a while.I didn't try to find out how far; there, after all, were people waiting. I went back to try the other passage. This one lead into what the Cornish call a gunnis (the Welsh doesn't seem to have a word for it): a lode that reached the surface, creating a narrow, steep, man-made ravine. Behind the gunnis a passage went off, but you couldn't go very far, as only metres further it was all flooded. So I went back! My report excited the men, and we decided we would go back the next week, to have another look. I look forward to that! But now it was late; time to go back out. We clambered back out.

View from the ore chute-cum-slide into the level

Dave at the top of the ladderway

Once out we decided to have a look at the hole I had been looking into from the inside. We also had a half-hearted attempt at finding the gunnis I had come through. We didn't find that, but one assumes It'd been well fenced off. And after all that searching it had got so late we relinquished any thoughts of a pint. Off home we went. I stuck the key in the lock at 0:30. Well late enough!

20 May 2014

New building

Another building-related posting! Everything is changing. Not only my house has become a shape-shifter; so has the School of Ocean Sciences campus. When I applied for the job in Wales the School of Ocean Sciences consisted of two buildings with offices and labs, one building on a small island reached by a causeway, a fieldwork store, and a pier with a research vessel moored at its end. And the foundations of a building to come.

When I came to Menai Bridge to start work, there already was half a building. It's growing rapidly! I won't be housed in this new building, but I might teach in it. I'm not too sure yet what will be in it other than whatever's now still on the small island (the building there is rather delapidated, and the causeway is flooded at some high tides, so I can see why they would move), but I look forward to finding out. It already looks rather good now, and it doesn't even have a roof!

 It already looks like a building!

And about a week later, it has an additional wing! And more ceilings.

The building from aslightly larger distance

18 May 2014

House getting dressed again

My house had started to be re-rendered. I thought old the old rendering would all come off, and then the new stuff would be put on. But why, really? While the front wall was still clad in last year's fashion, the back and the side were already trying on something quite a la jour. (I should be a fashion journalist!) It's good, actually; I don't think that bare brick wall should be like that for long. Welsh rain can be quite fierce, and it would percolate straight through the brick layer. Better to have some cladding of sorts! And the work has also allowed a slightly more sophisticated integration of windows and doors in the building. So I tend to have no idea what my house looks like when I get home, but I think it will indeed be better at the end!

The back wall in its state of partial dressed-ness

The windows and doors being connected to the brick by more than foam

Side wall all new and fresh

17 May 2014


Someone wanted to go to Rhosydd on a Sunday. I had once been; I had done the famous Croesor-Rhosydd through trip. That meant we got into Rhosydd from the inside, and basically walked straight out. But now there evidently was an opportunity to have a proper look around! That sounded good, and it sounded even better when regular David mentioned he wanted to try some rope pitch of which he didn't know where it lead to. Rope pitches and the unknown; all good!

David picked me up from home. We drove to the Cwmorthin parking lot, and met up with the others. Some I had never met before. One was dropped off by his wife and their 4 month old Border Terrier. That was nice! All kitted up we walked to the lake at Cwmorthins entrance, and along it, and out of the valley on the other side. It already was a great walk! These abandoned industrial valleys, with no habitation, but just fields and rivers and ruins and sheep, are amazingly beautiful. And then we got to the entrance!

Near the entrance

We had a bit of a walk around. It was quite nice! We scampered up some inclines and walked through some gaping chambers, and had a generally jolly time. And soon we came to where on the through trip we had come out. A big chamber with daylight flooding in. That was where the rope pitch would be. And indeed! We carefully clambered up; the pitch came past all sorts of iffy lumps of rock that were considering coming crashing down, but we all came up without issues.

Phil kindly provides scale  in this picture of the chamber we had lunch in

At the top we found a nice wheel on a short incline, with at the top of the incline a small, rather iffy level leading off to a half-collapsed valve chamber. Very nice! After having taken some pictures we came down again, to find the others having lunch.

The winder we found at the top of the rope pitch

The somewhat iffy level at the top of the incline

 Some very cute little crystals at the top of the pitch

We decided it was too early to go back; we would have another scamper. We first went down, to find a lovely flooded chamber with a level leading off in the other direction. Enticing! We should go back one day with wetsuits. These chambers are terribly deep and cold; not a very good idea to just chance them in"normal" clothes. After some ogling of these uncharted grounds we tried went back up, trying to get higher up than any of us had been. We came to a chamber that was so huge we figured it may originally have been two chambers, but which the in between bit collapsed. With a few we tried to find a new way out, and we did; evidently, not many had, as we found a little chamber with the hobnail-boot footsteps still all over the floor. Very nice!

I want to go back and see what's on the other side!

The hobnailed boot footprints, albeit not very clear

When we had all come back together we decided to go back out. Late enough! We walked the beautiful road back, and were greeted again by the juvenile Border Terrier. It had been a nice day! And I should go and repair my wetsuit (which has a big gash in it), and see if I can convince people to go back and check that flooded chamber!

Cwmorthin valley, and its lake

16 May 2014

Welsh - theory only

I got away with joining the advanced Welsh class after only 1 hour of beginners' class. But my brain was in meltdown when I got out! I knew I had some work to do if I wanted to catch up with this group, that had been learning for 1 year at least. During that first lesson I had had before we had done 3 pages of the course handout; the advanced class was about 55 pages further. And I'd better teach myself whatever happened in these pages in order to make it less exhausting to keep up! So I got to work.

I often revise a bit between the dishes and bed time. And I spend most of my lunch breaks sitting on a rock outside, revising! My Welsh went with me to Vienna as well. I had already once bought milk in the corner shop, all in Welsh, but the shop lady responded in English. But when I went to the greengrocer the week after, I managed to be addressed in Welsh! I'm improving.

Selfie on my standard lunch spot, where I tend to revise Welsh

The course material was not my only source; I had bought a booklet when I went looking for a house. That provided a nice addition; it was more formal (there is an enormous difference between written and spoken Welsh, and the university course pretty much teaches you spoken Welsh only) and more structured. Not only sentences from which you have to pry things like verb conjugations, but neat rows of such. Much better! I'm not for that modern conversational style of learning! I'm the servus servi servo servum servo kind of girl. But the booklet only went so far. I needed more!

So I found a document online detailing Welsh grammar. Yay! Finally, I got my metaphorical servus servi etc. (First page, 2nd paragraph: "singular, feminine nouns will undergo a soft mutation after "y", except those beginning with "ll" and "rh"...) And I did get a glimpse of how much there still is to learn. Oh well, nobody said it would be easy! And I also ordered a book, a novel, which was written specifically for Welsh learners. For when I'm in an imtermediately educational mood.

So then you get all full of yourself, quite impressed by your own talent and dedication. And then someone asks you a question in Welsh. A simple yes/no question. And you are at a total loss for words. And not only because in Welsh, there is no such thing as simple yes/no question (I'll get back to that). I realised I was rather rapidly teaching myself to read in Welsh. But that's not enough! I want to speak it. And revising is all well, but when I have to dig the grammatical structures out right there and then, I often can't manage. I need to practice more with that!

After that first advanced lesson three weeks passed without; two bank holidays and one EGU. The next lesson, anticipated as it was, was very useful. I got my speaking practice! And I should not be so shy and self-conscious if I am in the pub with the cavers, and order my beer in Welsh. And try in shops too. And not be hesitant to practice on the Welsh geophysicist a few doors away. And mutter to myself a lot! I have to be disciplined, but I think I'll get there!

ps Welsh is a bit like Finnish in the way they answer questions; you have to repeat the verb used. "Are the fish biting?" "Biting!" or "Not biting!". Not sure if that's a good example but these English tend to use pretty much only one finite verb in questions...

15 May 2014

Weekend run - west this time

I like listening to the CD that came with my Welsh course while doing graphic work. I like reading the newspaper while doing maintenance on my hair, or while brushing my teeth. I like being efficient with my time! SO I also like exploring Anglesey while running. It does mean I generally do my explorations without a map, and that irn turn means I tend to exlore places one doesn't get lost in very easily. The first time I had simple followed the coastal path, and the second time I had followed a stream to a reservoir, and then ran around the reservoir. This time I picked a dune field. I figured I'd be able to run more or less around its perimeter. And it was rather bleak weather, and dunes don't provide much shelter, like woods do, but woods are easier to get lost in. So dunes it was! A small path of them on the Anglesey  west coast.

When I started out I struggled against the wind, tears streaming over my face. I wasn't going too fast like this either! But I got to the beach. You could tell it sometimes had busier days. Now it was just one dog walker, me, and two kite surfers. They seemed to have a blast!

The menacing beach. The dot in the distance is the kite of a kite surfer.

At the end of the beach I turned back inland. Suddenly I was going a lot faster! No idea why. And it was indeed easy to find paths. And soon I was back at the road I have come over. On the other side there were fewer paths to be seen! And after a while I came a cross a tidal stream that looked tricky to cross, so I just followed it. And in the meantime the weather cleared up! I hadn't expected that. But I came back to my car in bright sunshine. I did a small extra bit on asphalt; I hadn't pushed it very much during the second half of the run, as I was too busy trying not to break my ankle, or be ripped open by hostile vegetation. So I needed a bit of bonus exercise for heart and lungs. That done I went home. Another part of Anglesey explored!

 The weather cleared up!

The view from the parking place