27 February 2015

Long training run

Now that I have registered for a full marathon I am tempted to get snooty about mere half marathons. Only 21 km! One doesn't need training for that. Except that one does. And especially if that half marathon actually functions as a training for that looming full marathon. 
During the last half marathon I found out one more of my colleagues runs, and we had decided it would be nice to sometimes run together. So far it hadn't happened. But now the actual race was nigh, and we decided to have a nice long run with the two of us! Coleen designed a route. We would start in Beaumaris, and go north from there, sometimes following the route of the upcoming race, and sometimes just scampering around as we saw fit. And so it happened! And it turned out to be a lovely day for it. 

We set off, chatting, and some 90 minutes later we were still chatting (and running). We were overtaken by some chap who was much faster, but who was on his own. We figured he was training for the same race. He'll beat us, but we had a more sociable training run!

Not only did we have a good training session, but I also enjoyed the surroundings. Coleen had lived in Beaumaris, and knew the nice routes. It had been a good time! Now bring on that race!

26 February 2015

Film in Bangor

Everybody who didn't shut me up in time has heard me complain that Bangor doesn't have a cinema. And it's true; there isn't one! The nearest specimens are in Holyhead and Llandudno. Poor show! But Bangor clearly does have a university. And universities have big rooms with seats, and a screen at the top end. And fortunately, the university realises the potential of such a set-up. And one day I got an email pointing out the screening of an interesting-sounding film on an evening I was available. Great! I drew my office mates' attention to this, and they all thought indeed it looked like an interesting film. So we went!

The film shown was "Leviathan", a Russian film about an unemployed chap in a slightly dubious marriage and with a stroppy teenage son, who is trying to fight eviction. (Spoiler alert: I will disclose how that ends.) The home of him and his forefathers is at a rather nice location, and the local authorities have their eyes on it. And they manage to find an excuse to boot him out. He bravely tries to fight it, but he's up against money, power, corruption, and everything that can bring against a simple villager. It's not looking good. But he has a card up his sleeve; an old army friend who has become a lawyer in Moscow. This chap comes over, having gathered a whole lot of compromising information on the leader of the evicting pact: the local mayor. And together they try to fight for what they think is right.

The film poster

In Hollywood it would probably work. But this isn't Hollywood. The villager's wife considers her unemployed husband whom she clearly isn't too fond of, and who might well get homeless soon, and she sees a handsome lawyer from the capital, and before you can say "not such a good idea" she is in bed with him. He seems quite happy with a casual shag, but doesn't seem to be equally happy to run off to Moscow with her. And from there it spirals out of control. The newfangled lovers get found out and beaten up, and the mayor figures the best response to blackmail is violence, and he manages to communicate his desire for the lawyer to bugger off and leave him alone in rather convincing ways. Exit lawyer. Which leaves the wife no choice but to go back to her husband, whom she didn't want anyway, but whose affections seem to be extra painful after she has had a dream of getting away from them. And it clearly gets too much; she drowns herself.

The whole film was recorded on the Kola peninsula; mostly rather far inland, but the scenes involving the sea (from which the film poster is a still) were filmed on the north coast; the above is a Google Maps image from the scarred but beautiful landscape up there.

This event creates two more nails in the coffin of our struggling protagonist; his wife's best friend is grief-stricken and wonders if it was murder. It wouldn't be the first time a husband who finds his wife shagging one of his mates would resort to such measures. And the mayor of course greatly welcomes this possibility of having this nuisance put behind bars for many years. Exit villager! Upon which, in a bit of a Mme Butterfly-esque twist of fate, the couple that had suggested the murder in the first place offer a sanctuary to the stroppy teenager son. And the house gets bulldozered to the ground. Fight the system in Russia? Better not try...

After all that (and the many, many litres of vodka that get consumed in this film) we needed a bit of a breather. We headed for the pub, to have a bit of a relaxing chat. It wasn't the happiest of films, but it was very good to sniff some culture in this slightly barren place. With friends!

25 February 2015

Dropping out and down

For the first time in a fair while, we would NOT go to Wrysgan this Thursday. Don had suggested a nice drop down through several chambers in local stomping ground Cwmorthin. That sounded great! But on the day itself we almost had to turn to Wrysgan after all.

The run-up to the trip already was ill-omened. David mailed his car had broken down, and that he hadn't managed to do an impromptu repair. So he was out! And then Paul bailed out too; he normally gets a ride home from David. I offered to do the honours, but it was too late, and later on I would actually be glad about that: it would have got really, really late if I would have had to drive home via Holyhead.

Alone I drove to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and found Don and Rob. Simon tends to be late. Phil was reported to be so late he would catch up with us later; he knew where we were headed. So with only four of us we headed up the hill, lugging the 100m 12mm rope with us. And we got to the gated entrance. The mine is owned by some chap who uses it for taking paying groups through it (BTW: we regularly see what kind of fun stuff he installs in the endless chambers; this is a commercial underground trip that the likes of us wouldn't be snooty about! Do all go! Look here!) but he's very generous and allows casual explorers in too. Just phone him, ask what the access code is, and Bob's your uncle. And the code had been the same for yonks; we all knew it by heart.

Except that he'd changed it and nobody had bothered to check. Oh dear. And up there, at the entrance, there is no phone signal. Now what? Go to Wrysgan (on the other side of the valley) after all? Go to the pub? But we don't give up that easily. Rob, who is always up for daft antics, clambered around looking for some rat hole and actually found an alternative way in. I won't detail it; that wouldn't be nice to Miles, the owner, who clearly likes to keep an eye on who goes in. But we went! We'll tell him later. We first had to get to the gate from the inside, to leave a note for Phil, but then we could start on the planned trip. Don had rigged it while we were going to the gate. And soon we were descending, one by one! It was an unusual corner of the mine, and the chamber we were descending was impressively big. And we even found some artifacts along the way!

A lovely bottle. Pic by Simon

Rob getting ready to descend the second pitch. Pic by Simon

It was all rather calm; the abseil was practically never a free hang, and the rope was so thick you couldn't go down fast if you wanted to, but it was very nice! Coming down a 100m rope has challenges of its own; you can't make sudden movements, as a 100m rope has at least 10m bounce in it, and you don't want to be boioinging through a chamber with plenty of pointy slate edges. And the chambers were lovely!

Once down, the first thing I found was a slab of rock with the signature of a lot of the CMEC chaps on it. Including one of the chaps I'd been underground with recently! That was a nice surprise. We then had a bit of a stroll, and had some fun with an original wooden bridge still in place, but then we headed back up. We had to take the rope back out. And getting out was again a bit of a hassle! Phil never showed up in the end; it turned out he had come up, and seen our note, but had figured  going in like we had done was too much hassle and he had just gone home. But with mainstays David, Paul, Phil and Mick all having missed this trip, we surely have to come back and do it again! But then just come in through the main gate...

24 February 2015

Teaching freshers

When I lecture the second year students, I struggle to get a response. When I got a chance to lecture to the MSc students, a lot more came out. So I wasn't quite sure of what to expect with some 100 first year students. I would have to help out on three practicals with pretty much the same students every time. I figured they'd rather hide under the desks, but then again, it was a practical. They can't really!

It all started with a session in which the students do some basic stratigraphy and palaeontology exercises. Nice; right up my street! And you don't get to sit still very much; the students need lots of help. Sometimes they need perhaps a bit too much; they could sometimes first just think logically before they go and ask someone, but on the other hand, it's nice and interactive. The questions are easy, and it's easy to steer the students towards an answer. Sometimes it just needs some rewording, or some reassurance something isn't a trick question. Or maybe just the explanation of a word. And you get to see many, many pennies drop in the course of the three hours. I enjoyed it! And the second session was fun too.

A figure taken from the practical

The other practical was hydrological, and that was a similar case of students being intimidated by in themselves rather simple questions. And here there was some calculating of things such as river discharge or flow speed and such things. And most of the students don't see these things a anything other than numbers on a piece of paper, which they can calculate if someone gives them a formula. Wondering themselves what these numbers mean and how they relate to each other is largely beyond them. I tried to make them see it, rather than just give equations. I think I did rather well! It was very gratifying. Soon I'll get these students to lecture to; I hope I can make them see what I mean then too, when it's just me in front of a screen!

22 February 2015

Rendez-vous with York

When I came to York, I was very warmly welcomed by a small group of first year PhD students. They immediately accepted me in their midst, and I always had someone to have coffee with, or lunch, or go to the pub with (very many very good pubs in York!). It was great! But I've moved on, evidently. But that doesn't mean they have been forgotten.

One of this group, Abi, sent me an invitation to her birthday celebrations. I don't think she thought I'd show up! But I figured there never would be a good time. I longed to see them all again, so I decided I could take a few hours off work, and take the train to York. So I did!

From the station I biked straight to Abi and Adam's house. There we would have dinner before heading to the pub. I was a bit intimidated by the crowds; I don't like busy pubs. I want to just sit down, be able to order a beer without queuing, and hear what people are saying. But we conquered a good territory in the pub and it was a nice night! It was great to see many old friends again! And I met some new people. And I had a few pints, but not too many. Abi herself was a bit humbled by how many people showed up. And later on, even a two man band played; not very conducive for conversation, but they were rather engaging and uplifting, so I didn't mind. Au contraire!

At some point we went back home. I had a last snifter (selected from Adam's impressive whisky collection) and gallons of water. Then it was bedtime! The others had been slamming tequila so they didn't want whisky. They just wanted to get horizontal. Soon we all did.

The following morning I woke up rather late. But by the standards of the house, it was rather early! I sneaked to the toilet to get rid of the gallons of water, and retreated back to my room. Let the others sleep off their tequila! I just did the geeky thing and did some Welsh homework until the others stirred too.

When that happened we went our separate ways; Abi and Adam had stuff to do, and Tom and I headed to town to buy groceries for that evening's dinner. Tom wanted to go home for a shower, and soon after we'd meet again in a pub where we would also meet Katie, the girlfriend of one of the core PhD students, who hadn't been able to make it the night before. There were some more ladies there; I'm getting to know the current cohort of PhD's! My friends that I had met when they had all just started were now already approaching the end. 

The view from Abi's guest room; I love brick two-up-two-downs! 

After a while the pub-sitting got to me a bit, and after some nice reminiscent strolling through the beautiful city with Tom we headed back to Chez Abi, where we combined forces to make tempura. It was great! But it's a lot of work and after dinner it was bedtime. So time to start my goodbyes again! I gave Tom a big hug.

You can't really go to York without ogling the Minster

Some nice scenic corner of town

The next morning it was time to also hug my lovely hosts, and once again head for the railway station. It was great to see everybody again! It was like I had never been gone. I hope to welcome the whole bunch in Menai Bridge one day!

21 February 2015

Image editing

It's all well having a sediment core, and it's all well having hundreds, but when you need to work on them you need to somehow extract information from them that you can just keep on a piece of paper or a computer file. You can't dive into the cold store every time you wonder about something! So on board we make a core description, in which we note things like sedimentology and fossil content through depth. And we take pictures. And later on, as one might have noticed, we have them X-rayed in hospital. And it takes 3 to 4 scans to do a complete core section.

Ideally, one would want the description, the picture and the scan all in one figure. But that is a lot of work! So recently, I have spent a lot of time staring at my screen, making snazzy digital versions of the core descriptions made onboard, and adding the core photographs to these logs. And then I had the job of taking the several scans of each section and stitching them together, somehow. Once I had the merged scans I could add them to the core logs too.

My first port of call was David; he's the School's photographer and general graphic man. He uses Photoshop for such jobs. But Photoshop struggles with X-rays! They're a bit fuzzy, and the software just doesn't see the overlap. He showed me how to do it manually, but that's a fair amount of work.

Guy (the lab technician) used some other software for the same purpose, but this software struggled in the same way. And then Juan, my office mate, asked why I didn't use the software they use. Juan, like all my office mates, is a sclerochronologist; a person who uses banded organisms for dating and palaeo-environmental research. Tree rings are the most famous example of annual banding in an organism. But corals have them too, and the ear bones of fish, and statoliths of gastropods, and whatnot. And clams have annual (or finer) bands too. All my office mates use clams. And they take very detailed photographs of their shells, under the microscope, and use the pics for image analysis. And as they need high resolution, they can't do the entire shell in one go. They need to stitch many pics together! So their software was tailor-made for what I needed.

An example of a raw X-ray image; this is some 36 cm of two 100 cm core sections. The circles, btw, are scars of the shear vane, with which we measure shear strength. Shear strength is an indication of compaction; if sediment has had an ice sheet on its head, it tends to get very compacted!

Juan showed me what the software could do. It was magic! So easy! I did all my sections while the sclero people were having lunch. Result! So then I only had to combine the scans with the other data. And when that's done I have all the information I could possibly want about my 88 cores ready at my fingertips! And then the REAL work can start; look for datable material revealed by the scans, dig it out, and send it off for radiocarbon dating. But for now I have clean hands and square eyes! And increasing knowledge on image editing...

A fully integrated core description, with all bells & whistles; notice the X-ray on the left that looks like one picture, but which is 4 pictures merged together

19 February 2015

Testing the beach for the freshers

It is one of the perks of the job. Having to take students into the field, and then getting the opportunity to go there beforehand, without students, to see what there is to teach. I had already been to Cwm Idwalthe Aberogwen coast, and Llyn Llydaw that way; now it was time to go to Red Wharf Bay. We would be talking to the students there within the framework of the Earth, Climate and Evolution module, on which I also lecture, and of which I supervise some practicals. As is generally the case; James would teach us the teaching. And as is generally the case, he brought his dog.

I travelled with James, and we got to the bay. Penny, the dog, was excited: a big beach! And James had brought a ball! What more could one want. Except that she gets so excited about the ball she doesn't want to give it back to James after having fetched it. That doesn't help! But it kept us busy while the others failed to show up. By the time we got worried they appeared after all. We could set off.
Penny amusing herself while James is lecturing out of sight. Notice the limestone cliffs.

It is an exciting beach! It sits in a low zone on Anglesey that runs all the way from where we were standing to the estuary on the other side, and which actually traces a fault in the crust. This one runs parallel to the Menai Strait, which is a similar fault, but which was eroded out a bit deeper. These faults are still souvenirs from a time when the ocean before the Atlantic Ocean vanished. And the beach has lovely Carboniferous limestone cliffs towering over it; this limestone was deposited when the region was  shallow sea, but the closing of the aforementioned ocean caused the uplift which brought the rock to where it is now.

Right underneath the cliff

The limestone isn't only interesting as a building material; it also shows some interesting features itself. It has holes in it, caused by dissolution, and filled up with very old sandstone. This means the dissolution must have taken place rather soon after the material was deposited! Which also means the rock must have consolidated rapidly. The sandstone plugs are rather impressive.

James on a sandstone plug in a dissolution hole in the limestone

The limestone also has trace fossils, and in some places, there is Last Glacial till straight on top of it. A lot to talk about! We all liked it, but the dog didn't. She thought all that standing still and talking was unbelievably boring. Couldn't someone throw a ball? Well, no, because she wouldn't give it away, but that didn't stop her from whining in the most pitiful way. So cute, and so distracting! But then James had finally talked us through the entire field day and we could head back, throwing balls liberally. In March we will do this trip for real, with some 100 students. I hope they are as impressed as I was!

18 February 2015

Through trip-again

We had made a new route through a mine; now we had the opportunity to fully enjoy it. It is fun to walk high onto a mountain slope, find a little hole to scamper into, scamper around on the inside of the mountain, and come out at the base. And that was exactly what we had now made possible! So in spite of the remnants of snow we walked up to the high entrance, and from there we started to make our way back down, to the top of our recently-made passage.

The plan had been to rig this new pitch a bit neater; so far it was an old piece of rope tied to a rock, but we knew there was a bolt in the wall. A bolt means little if it isn't combined with a nut, though! So we had brought one. But it was the wrong size.

It was the advance party of me and David who had concluded the nut didn't fit. I decided to go through, and go look for Paul who had come in through the low entrance, and who was engaged in a multi-week drainage project. He tries to lower the water in the adit so much even I with my low boots can make it across with dry socks. It's a lot of work! And it had taken us a while to walk around, and I was wondering if he was bored by now. David wanted to re-rig all sorts of things at the lower part of our pitch.
On our way to the new passage (pic by Simon)

Phil descends into the new passage (pic by Simon)

 Coming down on the other side (pic by Simon)

A selection of the artifacts to be found in this mine (pic by Simon)

I found Paul, had a nice chat, and took him back to the bottom of the pitch where we found the others were still faffing. They looked inert, so Paul went back to his project, and I decided to leave. I could, as Paul's mate could deliver David back to his car. And I had a slightly heavy week, with lots of evening activities (Welsh class, dinner with the sclerochronologists, this mine trip, and the Friday after would also be a late one) and lots of early starts. The day before I had had to be in hospital by 8AM, and the rest of the week I had student practicals in the morning. So I made a glorious retreat! Some other day we'll bring a nut that fits, and that might also be the day Paul gets the water level down to the critical level.  And hopefully, many people will enjoy the fruits of or work!

17 February 2015

Smart Wednesday

What would be a good day to come to work in a suit for the first time ever? Must be a day in which you try to stuff twenty core sections in a dusty, cramped cold store! At least that was my thinking. Or rather, it just worked out that way.

My charming office mates had decided it would be fun to come to work looking like a million dollars once a week. And I thought so too. The first week I forgot, but that wouldn't happen to me the second week. Even if that day would start in hospital, and wouldn't get back to the office before passing through our cold store.

Between cold store and office I popped by in the showers, to get out of my T-shirt and quick-dry trousers, into my actual suit. And then I sashayed into the office! And the effort was appreciated. I think I have enough smart clothes to wear something different for a few more weeks. And then it gets tricky! But it's a good exercise; normally I don't start practicing looking smart until a few days before a job interview. But looking professional is a valuable skill, and practicing is a good idea. And this way I'll get to find out what the most comfortable shoes are that still match a suit!

16 February 2015

Back to hospital

I would be going to hospital the next day, so I started to prepare. I thought I'd be on the safe side so I stuffed 20 core sections into the back of the car. Twenty sections, that's almost twenty meters, so you don't X-ray that in a jiffy. I thought. But as a matter of fact, you do!

My contact in hospital, Jenna, told me this time we had a different room from the time before, with a different X-ray machine. In the other room, we had to lay the core sections on top of a cassette; every time you take a new picture you have to move the cassette. It tends to take 4 pictures to cover an entire section. It's a lot of faff. But in this room, you don't need cassettes, so you just plonk down two core sections (the pictures are wide enough for two), and move the X-ray machine that dangles above it, from a movable frame. So taking the four necessary exposures takes no time at all. Take X-ray, move machine, take X-ray, move machine, repeat, done. Next! And there were no casualties being brought in (they have priority, of course) so we had the entire hour.

We managed all twenty sections in the time we had. Amazing! Now I can go and scrutinise all these pictures; where are the tasty shells we can date? And in some two weeks we can go back and do another batch. This is moving so fast! It's such a big help to our project. And Jenna told me she is encouraged to do research-based side projects. Everybody wins! And let's hope we get amazing 14C dates from this!

14 February 2015

New Welsh class

Language education in Britain; need I say more? I have been complaining before. The speed is just so slow! So I have developed a habit of joining a course that's ahead of me, then catch up, and then move to the next course up and repeat the cycle. I was already on my third course by October. And that was enough for a while; it was first term, and I had little time to practice. But in the new year, teaching became less overwhelming, and I could work on my Welsh again. So the class I was in soon became too boring. And Jenny, my original teacher, and my regular speaking practice partner, thought it was time I moved on. And by a rather large step as well; so far I had been doing the first level of the locally used method. It's called the Cwrs Wlpan, and it has 44 chapters. The first course I attended didn't get past the first; I then jumped to a class that was at chapter 8, and after a while I jumped to a class on the mainland that was at chapter 18. We had progressed to chapter 21 in 3 months. Not enough!

Did Jenny suggest I move to the class that's at chapter 30? No! She suggested I move all the way up to the next level (Cwrs Pellach), which pretty much meant I had a week to do 23 of the 44 chapters of the entry level course. Not easy! But I now have some time to catch up. I'm happier now, because working below your level is not very inspiring. And I also registered for every exam of which I think I have at least a slim chance of passing! You must register at least 4 months in advance; I thought I'd better play on the safe side. So in the previous post about Welsh I mentioned I had registered for the entry level exam; I now have registered for the intermediate level one as well. That one deals with the entire Cwrs Wlpan. And then, while I was at it anyway, I registered too for the next level beyond that. I don't know, maybe I manage to raise myself to that level in the four months that are left to the exams! And that one is equivalent to GCSE. That would be a proper, nationally acknowledged qualification! I would be chuffed if I manage that! And if I do? Well, next thing up is A-levels...

13 February 2015

Rendez-vous with the CMEC

If you live in North Wales, all underground-minded people come to visit you! Or rather, they all visit your region. In less than a year I had already enjoyed the Plymouth and the York cavers travelling to my neck of the woods. Excellent! But it didn't stop there; one day I got a message from one of the Cornish chaps that two of them would be coming up. Great! They had been there during my first joint Devonian-Cornish trip almost five years ago. And on many of the amazing trips I did with the CMEC. And now they were here!

They suggested we go down Pandora on Saturday morning. So I turned into the parking lot which was deserted except for a large white van. Which spewed out blokes in red furry suits! It was good to see them again. I suggested a a snazzy plot with our respective vehicles; if we would have one at each end, it would limit the amount of time we'd have to spend scampering around conspicuously. The local farmers aren't always keen on cavers, even though the entrances are not on their land. So we did! And then our task was to find the entrance.

I had come in from the top only once; during my first trip as a Welsh resident. In my mind it was hundreds of years ago! Fortunately, David had refreshed my memory a bit. And it helped! It wasn't me who found it in the end, but never mind. We got there! And rigged it. We decided to leave the rope there in case we wouldn't find the way out. We had another rope with us for the second pitch! And the third pitch isn't necessary; you can walk around and descend along a fixed handline. So we got in, got to the second pitch, rigged it as a pull-through, and went down. And didn't manage to get the rope down! Which wasn't a big deal; we could climb back up, re-rig it, and try again, but as we knew we din't really need the rope anymore, and it was close to the entrance, we could just leave it and retrieve it at the end. So we ventured on!

We scampered off in all sorts of directions. It isn't an exceptionally big place, but there is a fair amount to see! The men were impressed; there was more than they had imagined. I suppose they just wanted to have a look as they had never been in.

I brought them to the suspended car, and Mike then accidentally found the way on. I had forgot! Good to have these men. We first went all the way down that level until we reached the adit and/or shaft where the entrances had been blocked by rubbish. Then we headed for the way out. We found it without issues! And Darryll managed to fall in love with a clack valve along the way.

The chunky bit in the big pipe is the clack valve

We came out fairly early. I was glad we had left a vehicle behind! We jumped in, got to the shaft, took the ropes out, and changed into nice dry kit. It was even a sunny day! But time had come to say goodbye. I hope next time there won't be such a long time between seeing these chaps!

12 February 2015

New semester, new daft teaching responsibilities

Teaching responsibilities are like cockroaches; if you see one, you have good reason to assume there's more, and they can suddenly appear any time. I knew I had to teach a few more lectures in the new year (three lectures, but I will spread them out over five hours; there's a lot of information in them), and I knew I had to teach on some field excursions, both for the same module. And I knew I had to assist with some hydrology practical. That's not my field of expertise at all! I had the other person teaching that send me the material, and I just went and did the practical myself. Not hard, but a fair amount of work. Was that it? No!

A sketch of some of the catchment of nearby river Ogwen, which features in the practical

Out of nowhere popped up the third year dissertation; I have one student I have to try to keep pointed in the right direction. And there is the second year module "communicating science" for which I have to get eight students ready to write an essay, and present their work to the whole group. And then, only a few days in advance, I noticed some practical on general geology stuff I had to teach on. Oh dear!

I did have one spell of really knowing why I'm doing this; I had an email from a student who wanted to know what was so wrong with his field trip report. Mind you, he had a good grade for it, but he is one of the best students; the report had not fetched him an A, and he wanted to raise himself up to A level overall. Excellent! Someone who does something with my feedback! When you're putting all these hours in, marking and giving feedback, you just know many students just take notice of the mark and ignore the rest. It's good to see at least someone is actually paying heed!

10 February 2015

Through trip

An opening wide enough for a person is not necessarily an opening a person should go through! When we reached breakthrough the week before, we had produced a narrow gap with lots of hanging death. Not good! So the week after we'd go back and go to the top of this passage. If you throw things down a narrow, vertical passage you had better do it from above! So we set off.

The nicest pic of icicles I took at the entrance

The path was slightly less treacherous than the previous time. We got to the entrance, which was beautifully festooned with icicles, and we got in. There were only three of us, the Anglesey delegation; Don was already in there. We reached the chamber with our dig in to the sound of rumbling rock; he was already hard at work! He came down to say hi. And then we decided Don would have some well-earned coffee, Paul would continue trying to drain the main passage so we could get in without getting too wet during the Victorian trip, and David and I would scamper up to the top of the dig, and see if we could clean it up. 

It sounded easy, but it wasn't. David and I couldn't find our way and had to come back down to be shown the first stage by Paul. And from there we went in the wrong direction a few times more. But in the end we got there! And found lots of loose rubble with an enormous boulder on top of it.Would that rubble be keeping the big boulder up? We didn't want to dislodge that thing; that would kill us! But it seemed to be properly wedged in and we set out to throw rubble down. David with a bit more panache than me. And after a while we figured it was clean enough to chance coming through. We rigged the rope as a hand line around a big boulder, and down we went. It worked! We have a through trip! We had a donut (provided by Don) to celebrate and then we went out. Soon we'll go and show off our work to those who hadn't been there!

08 February 2015

Registered for a marathon

There never is a good time, so let's get it over with now! Ever since I ran my first half marathon I have been wondering what a full one would be like. And the perfect time to run one would certainly present itself, right? No of course not. We're some 5 years on and it hasn't. But after I'd done a trail half marathon I figured I could well consider to keep this up and find out. And when my colleague Jess mentioned she was registered for the Blackpool marathon I got some extra inspiration. But that marathon was on an inconvenient date. But there was another one, a week earlier, in Manchester. I drive to Manchester rather often; I use its airport as my gate to the Netherlands. And it's a nicely flat course. I don't know if my feet and knees and whatnot will like this, so I wanted an easy marathon to start with! And probably never do it again, but just in case I do get hooked, I can always do harder marathons later. Wales has very beautiful, very hard specimens!

So the Greater Manchester Marathon was OK regarding date, location and route. Should I? I don't know anybody in Manchester and after a marathon I think where I want to be is at home, and not 2 hours driving away from it. But the perfect time would never come! I registered. Oh dear! So now I'll have to actually run it. On April the 19th. Wish me luck!

File:Imperial War Museum 2008cropped.jpg
The Imperial War Museum which stands along the route. Source: Imperial War Museum. 

05 February 2015

Another morning walk

I had got a taste of above-ground, wintery Snowdonia the week before. That had got a bit iffy! I figured the next weekend I could have another try. And then do it better. 

I came up with some plans of where to go, but where I wanted to go there was no parking space. I ended up just parking somewhere near a random other public footpath, and wandered up that. It would lead to the shores of a lovely reservoir, so that would do. And it did! I did bring crampons just in case, but I never got so high up I needed them. It was alright; I had more to do that day. But it was great to have a nice walk in absolute nothing in the morning! And a nice cuppa in the sun. This place is great!

An unusual sight: a leat (coming from the left). It felt like Dartmoor!

Above the reservoir

The sun on the snowy mountains on the way back

04 February 2015

Back to parkrun

What do you do if you're a runner and you move to a new place? You look for runs! And in York I had started to run Parkruns, which was fun. For who forgot: Parkruns are free, timed, weekly 5k races, run on Saturday morning, in countless many places in the UK. But Bangor didn’t have a Parkrun. I found other runs, but the fun about Parkrun is that is just is there. If you are busy and you don’t get around to searching for races you can always do that one. But not here.

But the Parkrun concept is still growing. And soon I heard rumours about it coming to town! And so it was. As a venue, Penrhyn Castle had been chosen. It’s a bit out of town, but still only half an hour away on bike. Feasible! And the castle also gave the franchise a name; Bangor in Northern Ireland already had a Parkrun, so the name was taken. Ours is Penrhyn Parkrun!

I got up earliesh, and mounted my bike. I got to the outer gate of the estate. So far so good! And then the castle didn’t materialise. Oh dear! Would I be late? It should just have been straight ahead! But there was a closed gate there. With a “go away” sign. I thought of the Awyr Las race at Plas Newydd; I got there by lifting my bike over a gate and staggering over a cattle grid. Maybe this was a good strategy here too!

Seconds after scaling the gate I saw the turrets appear. I found it! Next time I might try a different route. But now I could park my bike, take off my outer trousers, put on my running jacket and get to the start. The castle had been described to me as a monstrosity, but I liked it! If you do kitsch, then do it properly!

Heading for the finish - inside the gate

We got a small intro on the route, and then we were off. It was a nicely small group! In York there would be 300-ish runners; here there were less than 100. Maybe because the run was newer, but maybe Bangor just doesn’t produce that many runners. It’s a small town, after all.

The route was nice. Through the castle grounds, past impressive trees and well-kempt lawns, and sometimes with view on the mountains and sometimes views over the sea. Nice! I was running rather pleasantly. And I saw I was actually going to run a decent time, in spite of the up-and-down which York doesn’t have. I later saw I had run in 24 minutes sharp; not bad! Maybe under 24 minutes next time! I think I want to come back here. It’s a nice way to start the weekend!

03 February 2015


I said it in the previous Wrysgan-related post: "with David's kicking-rock-down-a-slope talent we might even manage to establish a physical connection in one attempt". Guess what? We did!

Against all odds. And the biggest odd was the weather: it was atrocious. Approaching the pass we had to cross we were starting to come to terms with perhaps having to turn around. But we got over the pass, and even better: we made it to the parking place. That is: most of us. The BMW-driver had to be rescued from the valley! It couldn’t go where my heavily-laden old piece of rust managed to go. I was perplexed.

So one hurdle was taken. Time for the next: walking to the entrance, through the snow, in the howling wind, and carrying heavy wrecking bars. It wasn’t easy! But again; we got there. And then we could start. David went up and re-rigged the place. I first faffed a bit with my revamped carbide lamp; I had bought one of those too, and then bought some of the missing parts, and now it was time to find out if it worked. And it did! Spiffing! But by then the rigging was done, and I put the lamp aside, and got kitted up. Phil did too. And talked a bit of Welsh to me! I should keep that going. I need all the practice I can get. And now I know what a “figure of eight knot” is in Welsh! And then we went up. And the rock-kicking started.

Phil looking masculine in the snow with his wrecking bar

My carbide lamp in action!

It was mainly the men doing the kicking. There was only space for two! I was hovering above them, but being above anyone meant I couldn’t chuck anything down. But it was alright. I was happy to watch! Until the call of “tea” sounded from below. I made my modest contribution by re-rigging the rope from a metal pin, which would keep people on the rope a bit away from thundering rocks, and then abbed down. And enjoyed some nice hot beverages! I quite enjoy this new tradition, started on New Year’s Day. The other came down too. But then they went back up!

I was hoping we would actually have a day in which we would be home before midnight. But with all the testosterone-oozing blokes up there again I could forget that! But when they finally came down they said they had made an opening. Big enough for a person! But with some hanging death still. The next week we should go to the other side, and drop these precarious rocks down from above. But now we could go! And we would need the wrecking bars again, so we could slither down the slope again without these burdens.

It was not freezing. But that meant the snow was melting and slippery! And the wind was still howling. Regularly falling on our arses we came down the slope. I had to sometimes stop and brace myself in order to not be blown over. And then we also had to get down the slippery road! I had no purchase whatsoever, but I made it safely. And got home without trouble. Next week we’ll be back; we might have a proper through trip at the end of the day!

02 February 2015

Shopping avoided

I don't like clothes shopping. Or shoe shopping. It's a nuisance! Shops are unpleasant places and they tend to not be logically organised. Not by a logic I understand, anyway. I tend to run in, scan the place, and more often than not, run away as quickly as I came. So I have to go into many shops to find some clothes that serve the purpose I have in mind.

I haven't been shopping for quite a while! I bought some clothes on the ship, but that's different; that's just finding the right size. The choice is limited! But one pair of my most often worn trousers is about to wear through and I shall soon need a replacement. And I can also do with some shoes that are smart enough to lecture in but comfortable enough to walk home in, in case I have an irreparable puncture or something. (I lecture on the mainland; that's about 4 km from my office.)

I was on eBay anyway, buying stuff for the upcoming fancy dress event. And I thought I had nothing to lose by having a look at what sort of shoes there are on offer. I know my size! And lo and behold, sometimes there's something nice there. And as I normally tear the inner sole out of a pair of shoes in order to make place for my orthopedic insoles, and you can't do that in a shop, there is a distinct advantage to buying your shoes second hand. You don't want to do that with brand new shoes that cost an arm and a leg! So I gave it a go.

As I write this I'm wearing a pair of spiffing two-tone brogues that make me feel a bit ska all day. (A colleague remarked I should be carrying a machine gun when wearing something like these; maybe a slightly less pleasant association!) The sole is a bit slippy and not ideal for biking, but I'll get used to it. And they were only 30 quid, including shipping. I consider this a success!

I tried this with clothes too. On eBay and elsewhere, but that turned out to be a lot harder. It's not easy to come up with a description that is precise enough to return an appreciable number of useful hits. I might have to get better at this, or I might have to sometimes go to actual shops anyway. A bit of a bummer after the fast shoe success! But maybe one day I'll get the hang of it. And if not I'll just wear the same old stuff over and over again!