31 January 2015

A firm behind; an asset in a car

Nobody who has seen my car will be surprised that some parts are not working quite as good as they presumably did when it was still new. Some don't work at all. One bit that had started out alright but was now giving up was the tailgate. Or rather; the struts that keep it open. In dry, quiet weather and on flat terrain they still worked, but if it was rainy or windy, or I was parked uphill, the door wouldn't stay up. And my drive is a slope. While I write this I figure I could have chosen to reverse onto it; that would have made it easier to get stuff out, but I didn't actually think of that before. And that wouldn't have helped against the habit of the tailgate to slam shut when the wind catches it. I have been knocked on the head many times by that bloody door! It hurts. And my car is often used for caving purposes, and when I go caving I bring a helmet, so an interim solution was just to wear that anytime I had the boot open, but you can't wear a helmet when you're taking off a T-shirt, or putting it on. And sod's law decided it is these moments when the door comes crashing down. And trying to get big heavy things out of the boot with one hand while keeping the door open with the other is a faff too. As is resting the door on your head while you get stuff out with both hands. So to summarise; the tailgate wouldn't stay up and it was a nuisance. But I was resigned.

Who other than David offered the simple suggestion of replacing the struts that do the keepy-uppy work of the 5th door. I see cars as mobile enigmas; for him they are projects. These struts seem to be both rather affordable and easy to replace. That sounded spiffing! And thanks to him referring them as struts I now knew what they were called. It can be a nuisance to try to find information on things of which you don't know what they're called! And that is a common feature of car parts. In my world, at least. But armed with this new knowledge I went to eBay to see what I could do. And saw a pair of struts. And bought them. I thought. I hadn't paid enough attention; the picture was of a pair of struts, but the description was singular. The cheeks! But it promptly arrived.

I found a description of how to replace them on internet. I love internet in such occasions! There is hardly any chore you could ever need to do for which you can't find a guide online. And it looked simple. And when the rain abated a bit on a Sunday I arbitrarily chose the right strut and replaced it. And the door stayed open! On a damp day, on a slope! Sometimes the simple things in life can be so rewarding.
Look! No hands!

The replaced culprit

It had been a calm day, though, and it's nice if your tail also stays up in the wind. When I was packing my car for the next underground trip, I noticed that in some wind, the door still comes down. Bummer! But now I knew what to do: I just ordered a second strut, which arrived on the day of the underground trip (nice and quick!) so when it was time to go I just popped out a few minutes early and replaced the left one as well. And since then the door has been behaving. Bob's my uncle!

29 January 2015

Find some winter

The snow on the mountains was gorgeous! On Wednesday. I was in the office on Wednesday. I wanted to get into the snow in the weekend, but the snow didn't wait for me. On Friday it was raining. The mountains looked green and brown and grey again.

I was supposed to be going on a run with my newfangled running mate Coleen on Saturday. Or do a Parkrun. And in the evening there would be a birthday party for which I had to cook a dish. So Sunday seemed the right day for it. Except for the weather forecast. Saturday would be gorgeous, Sunday gloomy!

When Coleen failed to respond to any reminders of our run I decided to just ditch the running, get up early and get into Snowdonia in time to have a nice hike and still be home in time to cook my dish. And so it happened!

I decided to climb Pen yr Ole Wen, which is a mountain I drive past (or am driven past) an awful lot. It looks spiffing! And this time I would see it from close up. As the weather was mild I didn't pack anything exotic. And I set off! It was great to step from the road straight into a beautiful landscape, with pink morning sky. I just staggered up, not following any particular path. The route is simple; just keep going up and you'll get to the top. I figured I should, once there, follow a cliff around and then loop back to the valley floor. Once there I could walk along the lake back, or perhaps on the other side of the road.

This pic is taken only some ten meters from the road. And already there it's this beautiful!

Orange morning sky

I got to where there were patches of ice on the path. I don't have crampons! If it would get icier I would have to turn back. Too many people have to be helicoptered off Snowdonian mountains because they didn't come prepared. I don't want to be one of them. But the patches stayed incidental. And the only other way would be back; there were no reasonable paths in any other direction before the top. So I pushed on! And I got there. By the time I did I was in the clouds, and the wind picked up. I had to stop to put on my windstopper hat! The wind almost blew me over the edge. And the moist wind had covered everything in icy frosting. I got a bit worried. You still have grip on frosty rocks, but what if you have an ice patch over the entire width of the ridge?

It started like this; very civilised

A bit higher, the heather started looking like this

Higher still, the rocks started looking like this

And then I looked like this

I was staggering on, hoping to get a bit lower down soon, which would get me out of the wind. And then I suddenly heard "hello there!"; there was a little sheltering wall and some chap was having a cup of coffee there. It looked snug! I joined. I saw his windproof gloves, and his ice axe, and I figured he was prepared. And he seemed nice. So I was bold and asked if he'd mind if I teamed up with him. And he didn't! So we introduced ourselves. The chap's name was Mark. And as soon as I found that out, a whole group of walkers joined our shelter too. It was getting very sociable!

Mark turned out to be English, but had lived in various North Welsh towns for decades and knew his stuff. In spite of the howling wind we managed to strike up a conversation. It was nice to have someone to talk to! And after a while we reached the area where the slope down into the valley became subtle again, and we could descend. Peace was our reward!

Back in calm areas where you can see the world

Mark descends into the valley

After a while we emerged from the clouds and saw the valley below. Good! And from icy the terrain turned swampy. We happily sloshed through the gunk and got back to the valley floor. It was only 12:15! Mark, who was parked around there, offered to give me a lift back to my car which was parked some kilometers further down the road, but I preferred to walk. We said goodbye, I sat down in the shelter of a rock for some lunch, and he went on his way.

After lunch I strolled leisurely along the lake back to the car. When I was almost at the stile which gets you back to the road I saw some people appear from underneath the bridge. What? Can you go there? And when they came closer, one of them addressed me. "You once drew a glorious moustache on my face!" And so I had, at Juan's tash party. The world is small! But I of course tried their funny bridge route, which only took me under the road and back up on the other side, but it was a nice surprise. And then it was time to go back, do food shopping, have a shower, make my dish, and then go to the party. I was glad I'd come out! And once home I started bidding for crampons on eBay... don't mess with a mountain!

Cup of tea at the lakeside

The old bridge still there, underneath the "new" one!

28 January 2015

Establish a dig

We had started the underground year in Wrysgan. And we had been looking up a steep, smooth slope above which we suspected there would be a potential passage to somewhere else. There was a blocked passage somewhere, probably up there, and the men suspected it could be cleared, which would allow a new bit of through trip. But we first had to get up there to have a look! And for that cause David had brought a ladder. Simon ascended it with his drill, and a while later I followed as a general drilling assistant. And that was mildly useful! At some point Simon dropped some kit and I caught it. But later, he kicked down a rock, which I also managed to catch, but had to let go sooner or later myself. I yelled down if everybody was out of the way. No answer, and nobody to be seen. I let go. But Mick actually was below me, albeit out of sight. He hadn't shouted! It hit him, but fortunately not in a painful way. I felt very bad anyway. I should have demanded confirmation from below. 

Simon bolted on. And just when he had run out of rope he reached the point from which it was just about possible to scramble up. Which we did! It didn't look promising. That collapse could be filled with tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of rock. But David wasn't deterred. He climbed up instead to have a look himself. And to him it looked fine. He suggested some people would walk around to the other side, to see if they could establish contact through the rubble. And while Simon, Paul and Don started off doing just that, he started to shove down all the loose rubble from the slope. There was a lot there! I just had a chat with Mick. 

David about to have a look at the blockage

From time to time David would bang the rock or yell. So far, nothing! But then we heard half a conversation. Success! It can't be that much rubble if you can hear what someone is saying on the other side. So this might be worth pursuing. 

When the conversation stopped, and we assumed the others were on their way back (they'd better be; it had taken them 45 mins to get there!) I thought we could only wait, but David had a better plan; he suggested he'd start drilling some holes for bolts for next time. We had run out of rope, but it would save us time the next time around! It was a smart plan. I clambered back up. When we were faffing a bit (get the hammer out, test the rock, get the drill out, etc) I noticed I heard more rocks falling. We weren't doing anything! And then it dawned on me: what we were standing on was loose rubble on a steep, smooth slope. And David had just spent at least half an hour undermining that rubble. And it was starting to give. 

I announced to David I was getting the #### out of there. And I was hoping he'd follow my example. I got back to the rope and started my way down. David wasn't impressed; he just happily scampered back up and started drilling and bolting. Luckily, no more rubble came down. And in the end he re-rigged the whole set-up and came down. Around which time the others reappeared. I was impatient: it was late! I grabbed a ladder and started on my way out. Luckily, all followed. 

The next trip we'll go back there. Let's see what we can do! With David's kicking-rock-down-a-slope talent we might even manage to establish a physical connection in one attempt...

27 January 2015

Trust me, I'm a doctor

"Is it miss? Mrs?" "Doctor".
I said that recently when I subscribed to some charity scheme of sorts. Does it matter to this charity that I have a PhD? No. But does it matter to them whether I'm married or not? No.

File:Wedding rings.jpg

In the Netherlands and Norway, my academic title pretty much only mattered academically. Plonk it in your e-mail signature and people know you got that thesis out of the way. But when I came to Britain that title got a lot more use.

It started out with registering for all kinds of stuff. You tend to have to give some title of sorts. I know I'm not a Mrs. I am a Miss. But then there also turned out to be this option called "Ms". I had no idea what that was. Am I a Ms? I tended to go for Dr; at least I know what that is.

Later I found out that Ms (pronounced "miz", for those who haven't come across it) is invented for women who think it doesn't matter whether they're married or not. So in that sense, a good invention. But I've never seen it listed as the only female option, equivalent to Mr. It always is an option in the Mrs, Miss, Ms list. And I find that list insulting! You don't ask a man whether he is married, not even when providing him with the opportunity to say "none of your business". So why ask women? I am not defined by the nearest man. So I go for Dr. I'm really glad I got that title. It's a weapon! And I wish it wasn't necessary; in hindsight I appreciate that the Dutch have as good as disposed of the national version of Miss. Every female is a mevrouw now! Perfectly equivalent to a meneer. As it should be. But as long as the Brits keep trying to define me by presence or absence of a wedding ring they'll get my education shoved into their face!

26 January 2015

Coming out as a Welsh learner

Some months ago the Welsh tutor gave everybody in class a little pin. It reads "dysgu Gymraeg", which, as you must have guessed, means as much as "Learns Welsh". The idea was clear; wear that, and Welsh speakers will see it, and start speaking Welsh to you. They tend not to, by default! In a way that's good; not many people speak Welsh and it's very practical to be spoken to in a language one actually speaks. And there is something polite about it; when I bumped into two Germans on the top of Mount Snowdon and they just started speaking German to me without first checking whether I understood that, it felt a bit cheeky. There were very nice, but still. So it's largely a good thing to address people in English but it doesn't help when you're trying to learn.

Being Dutch I am very aware of the disadvantages of addressing everybody in English. I remember my English office mate in Amsterdam who barely spoke Dutch, but who was complaining that we never let him. Which was true! And I am aware it is more efficient to just speak fast English to people than to speak s l o w l y and with careful pronunciation in Dutch. And then wait for the other person to rummage through their incomplete knowledge of grammar and vocabulary and formulate an answer. But one should! Learning a language is a valuable thing and laziness shouldn't get in its way.

So that's all very well. Learning a language is valuable and one should be encouraged to aid learners! So I must have been wearing that pin every day, right? No. Since there is also fear. Most people are afraid of sounding stupid, and I'm no exception. So when I try to speak Welsh and people have no idea what I'm saying, or they speak to me and I don't know what they are saying, I get discouraged. And what's worse: being laughed at. That happened too. Then I don't dare anymore. And feeling like I didn't learn much during the first semester, due to a heavy teaching load, didn't help either. So I took the chicken road, left the pin at home, and spoke English.

But the first semester is over. There is some time to breathe! And to brush up on my neglected Welsh. And in the third week of the year I dared wear the pin. Did it help? No. I started wearing it on a Monday, and on Mondays the office radiators try, and fail, to chase away the weekend cold. So that pin was hidden by thick layers of winter clothes! And the Tuesday wasn't much better. But I'll just keep wearing it. One day it will have effect! I hope.

I'm now also registered for the first exam. Too late; I wanted to do that this winter but never found out how to register for it. And you have to register months and months in advance. I registered for the exam in June. Five months to go! It will be a doddle. Quite unlike actually talking to people...

24 January 2015

Getting ready for the Victorian age

When I came to Wales and joined the Thursday Nighters, they were just getting ready for a fancy dress trip down one of the local mines. It sounded fab! But I only heard about a week in advance, and figured I wouldn't get an outfit together on such short notice. But I wasn't keen to let the next episode pass me by. So as soon as it was announced I started gathering kit. I figured I could well wear a dress that had passed as a Florence Nightingale outfit many years earlier. It was a bit historical fantasy, but hey, I doubted that the standards would be historical reenactment-like. I had seen pictures of ladies in wellies! So the dress was sorted. I did have headgear with it, but I couldn't find it. So I still had to sort headgear, light (+ backup), and shoes. And I figured I'd have to hitch my skirts a lot; a pair of Victorian bloomers would save at least some of my modesty.

I found an apron + bonnet combination on eBay; I figured the bonnet was big enough to cover my hair, and the apron would make the dress look more Victorian. Some fancy dress bloomers were easily found too. And I found a pair of Victorian-looking ankle boots (that is, seen from the outside; the inside has a zip). And a carbide lamp with some parts missing, and a replica miner's safety paraffin lamp. I was sorted! I decided to try the lot on to see it if still needed some work. I think it's a success! It will be quite a challenge to do the actual trip, with heels, and long skirts, and a lamp in my hand, and another hand for hitching up skirts so as not to trip over them. That's two hands sorted. None left to hold on to a helpful man or a handy chain or whatnot. And where to put any luggage? I'll need to put my spare light somewhere.

Some think I'm being daft for making it so hard on myself. But I think it's a good societal experiment; women were seen as frail and vulnerable. Unfit for venturing underground! Physically inferior, and feeble of mind. And to a certain extent; they (we!) still are seen like that. And I want to see to what extent that becomes true if you wear what society pretty much would demand you to wear. I expect to become scared of slipping and tripping, to become clumsy and slow, and to need help from a man. And only because of the boots and skirts. The men can wear trousers and hobnailed boots! If I can wear my caving kit I stand my ground effortlessly. Let's become an acceptably dressed lady, to see if that is enough to indeed make me inferior, and to enjoy even more the freedom to just wear the kind of kit that is suitable to the occasion on normal days underground!

23 January 2015

Big intimidating race

When I moved to Wales I started looking for races. There wasn't much! After I'd been restricted to a treadmill for six weeks due to being at sea I looked a bit harder. I found the Caernarfon 10k and the Awyr Las 5k. But that was all on the road! I prefer trails. I couldn't find any trail races. But then I found out one of my colleagues ran; he had just done a big fat trail race further east, and he knew of a trail race up here on Anglesey. He said there were many distances; he would go for the full marathon. I had a look at the site.

So there was a 10k, a half marathon, a full marathon, and an ultramarathon. And the races were described as "strenuous". Not a race to try out the concept of a marathon! I want to do one one day, but this sounded a bit too much. The winning time of the half marathon was already twice that of the Plymouth half! So the half marathon would probably already feel like a whole one. I registered for it. And then when the time approached I got a bit apprehensive. Was I trained up for it? My half marathon times had been 1:53 and 1:50; I figured I'd need twice that for this race. Almost 4 hours! I had never run that long. And we had to cross Holyhead Mountain twice; when I had been there the week before I had almost been blown off it. And my knee had played up. Would it do it again?

But then the day came. I got to the venue, parked the car at Holyhead Breakwater, and walked to registration. Along the way I got gestured at from a car; two colleagues were parking too! It was an SOS couple of which the woman would run, and of which the man is my office neighbour. And they had brought the dog too. Nice to see familiar faces!

I walked on, and saw the colleague who had pointed this race out to me start on his epic journey. He looked happy! But he is that kind of guy!

I registered, went to the toilet, and then reconvened with my colleagues Coleen and Andy. And after a while I changed. I didn't want to spend any more time than needed in my running shoes, so I had walked in on my walking boots. Time to start looking the part! But that was cold. And they took forever to brief us. I didn't want to be on my feet all that time! But what can you do. And then we lined up before the start. And off we were.

Within tens of meters the road was flooded. One could try the roadside (which were clogged with runners) or go through. Coleen and I went for through! But this is January; we couldn't feel our feet for a while afterwards. Oh dear. But soon we were on the coastal path, with sun and space and loveliness. After one kissing gate Coleen said "see you later"; did she need a shoe laces break or something? No time to find out. I scampered on, onto Holyhead Mountain (but not all the way to the top), and then down again. Later I found her right behind me again. And then I got a stitch. Bummer! It does hurt. Would that be a lack of training? I should look up what they mean. But Coleen thundered past and became a yellow dot in the distance. I hobbled on.

Coleen and me scampering up a hill; we look like we coordinated our outfits!

We got to South Stack, which hosted the first checkpoint. I'd been here before a week earlier! And the stitch started to get less bad. I picked up a bit of speed again. And then I saw Coleen's yellow dot again. I came closer. She was walking; her legs had packed up, she said. Oh dear! There was still so far to go! So legs or no legs, we started running again. I gained a bit of a lead, but I was starting to feel my stomach contract. I had had breakfast before 8AM; we hadn't started until 10:30AM, and by now it was approaching noon. And I was burning calories like nothing on Earth! So I stopped to eat a granola bar. And of course, Coleen reappeared. We scampered on together again for a bit. And together got to the second checkpoint at 9 miles. Beyond halfway! But Coleen's legs were killing her it seemed, so that's when I left her. And happily hobbled on for a few hundred meters. But then I felt the usual sensation in my left knee. Oh dear. That had buggered me the week before! This was going to get interesting.

I just tried to hobble along as well as I could. I know this issue; it's been coming and going for some 10 years. If it hurts today it might be all fine tomorrow. I don't think I do much damage by running through it. It just hurts! Especially downhill! I tend to not have a problem when I run on flat terrain. Maybe I should choose my races accordingly. But anyway; I still had a fair distance to go. I just did what I could. And made things worse; we came through a muddy field, and I figured I was dirty already so why not take the straightest route, even if that had the deepest mud. That was a mistake! I struggled to get out of that swamp. And I dragged a kilo of mud with me from there on.

Fortunately I got to the mountain. The paths there are so steep one tends to walk anyway. And up is alright on my knee! But of course I got to the top; from there it would be interesting. I just did some stiff-left-leg hop down the path. I sure wasn't the only limpy person! And on my way down I saw I had only been in the race for 3 hours; a lot less than I had expected. And then I got to the finish. Made it! In 3:07:57. I found Andy and waited for Coleen, who appeared only 6 minutes later. Success! We chatted for a bit, and I got introduced to the woman she had been running the second half with. We might all do the half marathon in Menai Bridge in March. Nice!

Even though I'd put on a jacket I was getting very cold. I wanted to leave! Together we walked back to the cars, where initially I planned to put on dry socks and shoes, but then decided against and just went home. When I got there I figured I was cold, stiff, dirty, tired, hungry and thirsty, and had sore feet. And that the most efficient thing to do about that was to run a bath, boil the kettle, and then have lunch (with lots of tea) in the bath. And so I did! It was even better than I had expected, and I came out revived. And contemplated my racing future. Should I try a marathon? Should I avoid hills to appease my knee? Should I just stick to max 10 mile races in order to not have to worry about it? Watch this space!

22 January 2015

Underground trip for the impatient

Only two days later I would run that race I've been banging on about. Should I go underground? I always end up in bed too late on a trip night! And I need all the sleep I can get. But I didn't want to not go. That would be defeat! I should be able to do both. Just not a very late trip.

I warned David and Paul in advance; we travel together so when one of us goes back we all have to go back. We would go into a rather extensive and pretty mine, so I knew it would take self discipline to get out early. But I really didn't want to start the race tired! So I would really do my best.

We walked to the entrances (we had a rope and non-rope contingent this night), walked or abseiled in, and had a scamper around. It was a nice place! The best bit was one we didn't take pictures of. We have to do that some other day! This bit was reached via a rather narrow ledge next to a big drop; for some reason, nobody was keen to do that with a bag on their back. Note to self: do it anyway next time, or keep camera elsewhere. I didn't take any pics; I was thinking about the race. Luckily, David and Paul were more dedicated. And we had suicidal Rob who explored bits nobody else dared.

A nice multi-coloured big chamber, with Paul in it. Pic by David.

If you go into that passage lit up by the silhouette in the previous pic, you see this. Pic by Simon 

At about 9 I got nervous and tried to herd my passengers out. It sort of worked! We were out at a reasonable time, and I managed to restrict cake-eating time afterwards. A bit. We had Mick, so we had cake. And chocolate! Not easy to lure everybody away from that. But it worked. And I was home at 11PM. Half an hour later than bedtime, and home is not the same as in bed, but well, it wasn't bad. And I hope to go back to that place soon, and explore it without haste! It is well worth it!

Me and a chute. Pic by David.

20 January 2015


After all that teaching, the denouement is here: the exams! For my own module, all projects the students have done so far only amount to 40% of the final grade, so these two hours in the Main Arts building will make or break their final score. I hope it will be "make"! I was glad to see some students mailing me with questions in advance. I'm here to help them to get to a knowledgeable state; not all see it that way and steer clear of me, but the smarter ones figure it is no use going into the exam with a confused head. Confusion could always pop up, but if there's something of which you are aware you don't get it, you should sort it out beforehand.

But before I would oversee the exam of my own module, I would assist a colleague in invigilating on his. He had twice the students, so needed twice the invigilators. And that was good; there are all sorts of rules and regulations involved with exams, dealing with when to start and stop, what to do with phones, how to document who's there, what the students do with the exam sheets, anonymity, early starters, sick people, and whatnot. It is not all self-explanatory! I was glad to have seen the process before I had to do it on my own.

The room I invigilated in first

During the first exam I wiled away some time with the module leader, seeing what we would make of each other's questions. About 4 people had contributed to the exam, and some of it consisted of multiple choice questions, so we could easily and silently do these. I was proud to do a whole lot better than this venerable professor! And I probably did better than most of the students; there also were essay questions, and I marked those that dealt with what I'd been lecturing about, and I wished more had stuck. Frustrating to not get to do it next year, and do it better! But that's life.

I haven't marked the exams of my own module yet. I really hope that will be better! As Dave my co-invigilator said; it feels like you're marking yourself...

18 January 2015

Back to iGlass

Of course I would manage to count a few samples before Christmas, I said. One can always squeeze in a few of these! Can't one? Well, eh, no, not quite. Teaching ate up my time. And I could have sacrificed some time between Xmas and Edinburgh, but the university was closed, and the heating off. A bad time to sit still behind a microscope! So I waited until the new year. And then processed the ten samples Tasha had sent me, which would help her pull the whole project together.

It was a bit of a faff; I was a bit out of practice and the lab isn't as equipped to such things as the Plymouth and York ones. We don't have spiral sample trays (I forgot their proper name) and we only have a splitter that splits in two (rather than 4). I haven't found a seeker yet (and haven't bothered to improvise one). And the samples weren't helping; most were barren, which is boring. And which is not helping Tasha. But that's the way it is. I'm glad I got it out of the way. And we'll see what the final conclusions of the project will be!

PS I remembered: they're Bogorov slides!

17 January 2015

Ready for X-ray

If you photograph a sediment core, you do that with a ruler or measuring tape next to this core. But if you take an X-ray? You won't see a measuring tape! And you might see a ruler, but not its tick marks. So in anticipation to a return to hospital I invoked the help of our spiffing lab tech Jess and set out to make an X-ray measuring tape. One needs: duct tape, garden wire, and pliers. And a steady hand! Which we all had. And I think we made a spiffing specimen.

We folded the duct tape double, which means you can't directly see the wire, but the shape comes through and you can see the ticks perfectly. We're ready for hospital!

16 January 2015

Exploring the route

I figured I had time for a last long run the Sunday before the race. And I was a bit nervous about the route; would it be rocky like the Peris horseshoe? Would it be slippery like something slippery? What shoes should I wear? Road shoes, trail shoes? I decided to go find out. I drove up to Holyhead, regretting I hadn't brought my satnav as I struggled to get where I wanted to go (which was the start), but settled for parking at the South Stack and running eastward towards the start. I knew South Stack was on route. And I set off!

I ran for two hours. I say run; I should say I was gone for two hours. Rather soon my knee started complaining; that reduced me to a hobble. And on the way back I had to come back over Holyhead Mountain again, but the wind, already strong in the beginning, had picked up, and it was hard to stay upright on its top. And as bad on the way down, against the wind. I had to come off laterally in order to keep things acceptable. And you can't run off-road if you can't stay upright. So not that much running! But at least I am now a bit familiar with the terrain. And I can only hope for better weather next week!

Me with Holyhead Mountain in the background; I'll have to scamper over it twice during the race

View from the east to South Stack (if you click to enlarge you'll see the lighthouse at the end)

15 January 2015

Entertaining again

The last time I had people over for dinner had been in May! Too long ago. But so much happened between then and now. But with the first term done I figured I should be able to make time for this again. So as one of the first things I did in the new year was invite David, Guy and Kate (Guy's wife) for dinner. Kate works for SEACAMS; some organisation closely related to the university, so I know her too. It would make sense to also invite Jess and her fiance Sean (whom I'd met through Welsh classes), but I knew it would already take me hours to cook for four. I normally only cook for one! And not very elaborately. So I was slightly relieved when she said she would have Guy test the water first.

It was a success! It did take me quite a while to sort everything, and I managed to overcook things, burn them and let them go cold, but that was all within the margins of acceptability. We first had some nice beers (except David, who was on coffee, as he wanted to drive home later on) in my generally approved living room, and then I served them sauerkraut. I like that stuff a lot! And figured none of my guests might well eat that very often. And indeed they didn't. But more out of ignorance than dislike. Good! And it went well with the wine David had brought.

 An earlier pic of my living room

Guy and Kate had brought dessert: an actual roof slate as a cheese board. Spiffing! I also brought out the sloe gin. I think it's a success. But we are all responsible people, and before 11PM all were gone. And before next day the entire pile of dishes had been done, my colleague Jaco had already invited himself (and his wife) over for the next episode. Bring it on!

14 January 2015

Talking about the North Sea

Last year we ventured onto the Celtic Sea, the Irish Sea, and the waters west of Ireland looking for traces of the ice sheet that had once covered these lands. That should sort out our knowledge on the western edge of the former British-Irish Ice Sheet. But it had an eastern end, too! This year we'll go and sample the North Sea. This is the difficult bit; from the moraines and drumlins and other (sub-aqueous) landforms you can pretty much straight away how the ice moved on the western side, and all you have to do is date the movements; in the east you have to figure out what happened first before you can go and date anything. We had a lot to learn. And an outstanding opportunity presented itself. The Quaternary Research Association had chosen the North Sea as the theme for its annual discussion meeting. So while still struggling with the last spate of marking of the first term I registered. I wouldn't present anything; we had nothing to say on the North Sea yet. But I'd soak up all that North Sea knowledge!

The venue, which one reached along a path that represented geological time and the Scottish rocks associated with it

The meeting would be in a venue called "our dynamic Earth"; some millennium-related place of popularisation of general Earth science. I hadn't been there before, but I was pleased to see it was right at the edge of Holyrood park. I had been there before, some three years earlier, going for a walk. This time I would try to use it for another training run! I didn't want to lose momentum this close to the race. But first things first. I took the train to Edinburgh, walked to my hotel, dropped my bag, and went to the venue for the icebreaker. I got my name tag and my information package and went to find the drinks. And upon descending into where these were distributed I was flagged down  by Robin Edwards. Nice! He had done a postdoc in Amsterdam between 1998 and 2000, which meant I had already known him for 16 years. Later I saw there was an equally old acquaintance there: Wim Hoek. But most people there I either didn't know, or had only known for a few years. I was good to see him!

The icebreaker in the rainforest-themed part of the venue. Picture by Marian, last cruise's Marine Mammal Observer

Socialising during the icebreaker: fltr me, our own student Zoe, Louise, Robin and Richard. All these except Robin were on last year's cruise. Picture by Marian

 From the icebreaker we went to the pub. I managed to leave my information folder there. Oh dear! I feared that would happen. Luckily I had printed out the preliminary schedule. So the next morning I was well-prepared for the talks. And it was very interesting! People have done a lot of research on the North Sea. For all sorts of reasons. And I was sitting there, taking it all in. 

After the last talk we would gather with a lot of BRITICE-associated people, to discuss what we would do with radiocarbon dates. We found a table somewhere, but were booted out as the venue would close. James suggested we relocate to the hotel where we were both staying. And chose my room. As one does! But I must say, I never had such a stellar scientific team in my bedroom. BRITICE's primary investigator, the chief scientist of the cruise, two more BRITICE professors, and then two radiocarbon experts and my fellow postdoc Louise. It was interesting to fit them all in but the meeting was a success.  We're ready for the dates coming in! And afterwards we went to the pub. Of course. And while we were there anyway, we had dinner there too. Haggis!

The next morning started with a session on stuff that was older than the last glaciation. Very interesting, but not of acute use for the current project. So that was my chance on a run! I went into Holyrood Park. I noticed it was very windy, and I figured I should not go up to Arthur's Seat, but when it came down to it (or up, rather) I couldn't resist. I had to hold on to the triangulation pylon at the top for dear life! Blimey. I had to get down. On the way I was caught by the wind once, and struggled to regain control. I decided to stay low from then on! Which I did. A nice run. And then back tot the North Sea.

Nice ruin passed on my run through Holyrood Park

I came past Holyrood itself too

The North Sea is studied by people like me, but also by archaeologists, and windfarm engineers, and geophysicists and geographers and who not. But they all aim to understand the sediments, which means understanding what happened. So all of that was useful! And it's also good to consolidate existing contacts, and make some new ones.

That day ended with the conference dinner. It was on the other side of town. It rained when I set off; it poured when I was on my way. Blimey! But one is not made of sugar. It was nice to have a pre-dinner pint and the dinner was nice too. I went to the pub for one post-dinner pint, but was very aware of bedtimes, and was the first to leave.

On my way back from the conference dinner

The next day was interesting from start to finish. And at the end of it I just had time to kiss as many people goodbye as I could (mainly the Dutch, of course; Brits aren't much into that, although I managed a few) and had to then scamper to the railway station. A good start of the working year. The next day would be back to normal!

13 January 2015

Last run before the work starts again

Work gets in the way of running. And it would start again. I had to get as much running in as I could before the office would take over! And I figured I'd run somewhere I hadn't been before; I picked Trearddur bay, as that would be beyond where the half marathon would turn inland. I would try the coast; probably fairly representative of the actual route, but not quite on it so I wouldn't spoil the surprise. And it was a nice day!

At some point a woman appeared out of nowhere. She went the same way. And she'd done it before; I was still zigzagging around a bit, losing and re-finding the path. Trailing her made things a bit more efficient! And then we struck up a conversation. And decided to run on together. It was nice! I was making a smaller round than intended, but I didn't mind too much. I almost always run on my own, and having some company is nice. She was a local, and she worked at the hospital in Bangor. She didn't race, but I did recommend it to her; maybe she gives it a try and I'll bump into her again!

11 January 2015

Break the mould

Am I stuck in a rut? No, I suffer invasion! I'm not sure if I'm in a mould of sorts but I certainly encountered too much mould. (In spite of what I initially thought, it seems you can't distinguish the cast and the fungus by spelling.) When autumn hit I noticed my house was very damp. When autumn progressed I found out that means several annoying things: firstly, the damp gets into food. I chuck tonnes of rice into my salt caster but it doesn't help. The salt gets chunky and won't come out. And foodstuffs that attract water have to be packed water-tight as otherwise they get soggy and slimy. Not nice! And secondly:  mould. In the wardrobe, in the clothes cupboard, in the boxes under my bed; it pops up everywhere. It's very annoying, and I can't imagine it being very healthy. When I came back from my trip to the Netherlands I switched the heating on, and kept it on 24/7. That goes a bit against my upbringing, but that way I might get to dry out the place.

And then someone mentioned the concept of a dehumidifier to me. I was aware of them, of course; they especially tend to pop up after emergencies. When a colleague in Norway had her house flooded by a burst pipe, for instance. Or when a colleague here in Bangor was so unfortunate to have a radiator in his office that transformed itself into a nice hot fountain. While he was teaching on the mainland, which meant it could proceed unchecked until someone saw the water creep underneath the door. When the bailing and the mopping was done, the dehumidifiers came in! But I hadn't thought of them as a possible solution to my issue. But they very well might be!

A few days later I popped to the local B&Q and bought the most suitable-looking specimen. Big enough to make a difference, but not so big as to get massively in the way. After a stint in the kitchen I moved it to the hall, where it might sort out all the rooms at the same time. And it's got something to do! When I came back from the Netherlands I emptied it; it had been cold, so it wasn't very full. Cold air doesn't hold much water. But upon coming back I switched the heating on again. And then it filled up completely within 12 hours, twice in a row! That's 4 litres out of the house in only a day. I think it was a god investment. And now I can sprinkle salt on my food again. And no new occurrences o mould since!

Modestly gargling away in the corner: my new dehumidifier!

09 January 2015

New Year's underground tea break

New Year's Day fell on a Thursday. It's not the sort of day on which routines tend to continue, but some inquiry revealed many of us wouldn't be doing anything exciting the day before, and we could well get underground as per usual. Nice! But not something very demanding; just a nice stroll. Was the idea. And that idea got reinforced my messages saying that Paul wanted to try out a new stove and would make us tea. David wanted to try out an oil lamp. So it would be civilised! I would not even put on my suit. Just quick-dry stuff would do. And I didn't pick any kit; just a flask of hot water (for backing up the stove) and some Dutch delicacies my father had given me. They're best when shared!

David picked me up, and through gales and torrential rain we drove to Blaenau. There would be only five of us today. We walked over the path along the river to the entrance; that was quite something! Mick, who had lived in Blaenau for Donkey's years, had never seen it this torrential. It was very impressive! But we were glad to get out of the rain when we reached the entrance.

We first did an explore. I had only been in this mine once; I clearly hadn't seen it all! It was a nice stroll. We had one scare, when we suddenly heard a thunder; the fear of every mine explorer. Had a part of the ceiling collapsed? Not on us, fortunately! But when we climbed up to investigate we were met by a flock of sheep. Be they the culprits? David kicked a rock down the steep slope. A similar sound! Maybe it had just been them. We decided it had been.

After a while it was time for tea. David had snacks and I had my gemberkoek and Haagse Hopjes. It was a veritable feast! Paul not only had a stove, but also a carbide lamp. A cool little thing! Maybe good for the annual Victorian mine trip. It was all rather snug.

Even though we were close to where we had come in, we didn't go there afterwards; we went all the way up instead, and went down again via the outside. I wasn't so keen; I was tired, as one expects from someone who has already run two hours that day. And it was getting late! When we were finally back on the valley floor we took some pictures of the river, as we figured we'd not see it like that anytime soon. And when we were back at the cars, Mick even suggested having a cuppa at his place first. I declined; we had had litres of tea already, and it was 23:30! Blaenau is an hour away from Menai Brige. I slept on the way back in the car. It had been a bit much of a good thing...

04 January 2015

New Year Run

New year, new me! Am I not quite in touch with modern times? I am being so catchy. But it seemed appropriate: this year sure started different from any other for me. And that had to do with how I celebrated. Or rather; how I refrained from doing just that. I was still recovering from a harsh semester, and I figured I was better off doing some of the things that had been lingering for months on dust-gathering to do lists rather than doing more travel and socialising. As spiffing as the people I have been celebrating with the past few years are!

I initially considered seeing the 2015 sun come up from Snowdonia. A quick consultation of the weather forecast made me reconsider. I settled for a long sunrise run; I needed to get the training for the upcoming race, and when you run it doesn't matter very much if you can actually see the rising run. As long as you start in the blue light of early morning and see it turn into the warmer colours of day! And the day before, David had remarked that Newborough forest is a good one to get lost in, so I picked that as a venue. If it is big enough to get lost it's big enough to run in for two hours! For that was my target time. I had been running 75 and 90 minute runs so far; time to crank it up to 120. Still a lot less than I expected to need for the race, but there is still time.

On New Year's Eve I went to bed early, heard some fireworks from my bed, and woke up at 7AM. The sun would rise at 8.30. I put on my kit, had breakfast, and was off. I parked the car in the parking lot at the landward edge of the woods and started running towards the beach. And upon getting there I figured I could run to the end of Llanddwyn peninsula. It's very pretty! But at high tide it's an island, and it wasn't very far from high tide now. I didn't want to be cut off! I decided to do a quick round; the water wouldn't rise catastrophically in a short time. And when I got back to the end, I saw the water had actually dropped; tide was going out! Good. I did another round, but this time explored a few more daft corners of the peninsula. It was dramatic weather! The sea was battering the black cliffs, I couldn't keep my camera still in the strong wind, and it was all rather refreshing. Then I went back onto the path that had brought me there; I ran back while exploring every viable side road that presented itself. After some 1.5 hours I was tired and my legs became unwilling, but that was exactly why I was doing this. I have to get my legs used to this sort of stuff before I run for close to 4 hours!

Llanddwyn peninsula on a gusty New Year's morning

After 2 hours and 10 minutes I was back at the car. It had been enough. And a good start of the year! And it got better; it started raining while I drove back. By the time I got home the rain was battering against the windows. There was a weather warning out for North Wales, and it was clear why! I had just used these two hours of daylight that were dry! And could recover snugly in my home while the weather was atrocious. And I would later end the day underground. A nicely balanced 1st of January!

Project sloe gin: approaching the final

In September I made some sloe gin, thinking of my birthday, and Christmas, and such occasions. But then life happened. But these to-do-list-busting days after Christmas offered a window of opportunity for getting rid of these berries and bottle my first home brew. Four moths should be enough! The recipe I used suggested to let the stuff rest for another week in the bottle. I hope to get some friends over to try the stuff soon!

Holiday underground trip

These unclear days between Christmas and New Year's Eve are good for doing all sorts of things one doesn't find time for normally. Such as: going underground for the whole day! So a plan was made. We'd scamper around one of these big local slate mines. And in the end, we gathered with twelve enthusiasts.

It was not an adventurous trip; it was all rather sophisticated. But we spent some 5 hours underground, admiring all the relics. Phil had brought a friend, and was lecturing him on all things mining; I tried to be within earshot as often as possible, as I like learning more. We also had a chap with us who I'd only met during our Christmas do; he really knew everything there was to know. He also knew the way; not unimportant! And when we came out there was still some fading daylight. I hope there'll be more days like this in the new year!

The view walking up! Not bad.

Some artifacts. And some legs. 

Blober staring into blue depths.

The place was very sooty; in some chambers the water lay in discrete droplets on the slate

There had been a small critter in there!

Walking back in the fading light