31 March 2015

Caving or running?

Caving and running; one would say these are effortlessly combined. As long as you don't hurt yourself underground there is no reason why one can't do both. But these days I start to see an issue.

We spend a lot of time in the big local mine. When I say big, I mean BIG. I've been in it countless many times but I still don't know my way around. If we're scampering around in some remote corner of the place, I stand little chance of getting out on my own. And the remote corners are the most interesting, of course. And it takes a while to get there. And to get back.

If we are doing a trip like that, we're home late. And I don't cope well with lack of sleep. If I don't get enough rest I just fall ill. I'm always acutely aware of this, and always at my prickliest when people get between me and my sleep, but now, with this marathon looming, it's got worse. If I fall ill now, all the training so far will go down the drain. So I am getting more annoying at my mates if they are happily procrastinating and pootling in the deepest depths of a mine at a time I would want to be in bed already. Mind you, most of the time the mines we visit are about an hour's drive away; if you're still deep underground by 10.30 you won't be in bed until 1AM.

Random picture from one of the local venues, taken by Simon

I could, of course, drive up separately, and then I can leave at any time I wish. But if we're somewhere from where I can't find the exit, what's the point? And in a way, having to find your way out on your own is an excellent way to get to know the place, but if it goes wrong and I get lost and I waste hours it won't do anything for my mood or my marathon training. I think I'll at least have to skip the trip just before the race. We'll see how I manage in the weeks in between!

29 March 2015

One year, one book

During the last days of March 2014 I moved to Wales. Two weeks later I had my first lesson Welsh. And in May I ordered a book in Welsh; a novel, especially written for Welsh learners. How could you tell? Well, the most obvious thing is that the level of the language rises markedly through the chapters. In the first chapter, pretty much everything is in present and active tense, and the sentences have little or no subordinate clauses. And every chapter the level is cranked up. Later on the sentenced are compound, and have past, future and conditional tenses, and whatnot. What starts as a sort of a children's book ends reasonably credible. So even if you learn, and your own level rises, it might not get easier to read this book, as it grows along with you!

Another thing is that the author clearly made sure he repeats words so the chances that it sticks in your mind are increased; he also sometimes introduces a theme. There is one chapter, for instance, where people suddenly feel the urgent need to bring their fingers to their lips, rest their head in their hands, pat each other on the shoulder, and so on. A lesson in body parts! And I suspect the writer has even tried to introduce words that are near each other in the alphabet, so you can keep your dictionary open at the same page.

So that is the educational aspect; what about art? It's a novel, after all! Well. That was clearly a bit of an afterthought. The story revolves around a man who runs a sort of a corner shop, and it's not doing well. He tries to think of something that will make his shop more successful. And in the end he manages, with the help of a rich relative, to buy the old cinema building and start a supermarket in it. Success! Riveting, isn't it? It is right up there with the most boring books in the world. But do I care? No!

By July I had painstakingly read the first three chapters. In August I had added a few. And then teaching hit, and I didn't touch the thing for months. No time! But then, in the new year, I picked it up again. And I noticed my Welsh had improved in the meantime; it had become rather easy to read it. So I sped up! And now, in March, I have finally finished it. My first book in Welsh. It has taught me an awful lot. Having read this, I think I'm ready now to read a book that was meant as a novel! Bring it on!

27 March 2015

Another monster run

Four weeks and counting! That marathon is approaching quickly. And Gordy's is approaching even quicker. So we did another long run. After the rather traffic-heavy run the week before I was keen to run a quieter route. David recommended running to Aber Falls; it's a beautiful route, but a good path, so perfect for training. The only problem is that it is too short, but he mentioned a small road went from there too.

I sat down with a mapping website and tried a few options. I saw a road went south from the small road! It looked beautiful. And a trident of Aber Falls, road south, and small road itself would be long enough. But then I checked elevation. I ditched the path south. But there was another one! It went along a river to a small reservoir. That one wasn't too steep. Good! I had to make the route along the small road rather long to come up with a 17.5 mile route, but so be it.

I picked up Gordy in the blazing sunshine. We parked, and off we went. The path to Aber Falls was beautiful indeed! And within minutes we were both running in T-shirt. It's spring! But Gordy wasn't really feeling the run. He struggled immediately! Oh dear.

We got to the Falls. They are pretty! Nice to have seen them. We got back to the car, and set off along the road; it was an old Roman specimen. It was steep! Oh dear. But we plodded on, to the junction where we would take the path along the river.

The falls in the distance

The falls from close by

What a valley! Apart from the river, there was nothing in it. A lovely one for camping one day! We plodded to the water at the end. And then things got better; now we went miles downhill. By the time we reached the road (here a path) again our bodies had properly woken up and things got easier. Time for the last tooth of the trident!

The Valley

Gordy having a good time

Me and a view over the strait, and Anglesey in the background (pic by Gordy, of course)

The route went through very dreamy empty landscape. I could see why this road was not in much use anymore. It must have been the road from the Roman camp in Chester to Caernarfon! Now it went from nothing to nothing. Suited us well.

The empty landscape the old Roman road went through

After 3 hours on the road we hit the furthest point. We would surely be slower than the week before! But I felt a great deal better. We turned around. I was faster than Gordy, and ran to the parking lot where he wanted to eat a bar in order to revitalise himself. I waited for him there, being amused by a bloke by a dog that was as defiant as it was intellectually challenged. Funny! When Gordy arrived and we ate the bars we saw the chap struggle to get away. Oh dear! Stuck in the mud! We tried to help out, but he had lodged that Audi firmly in the gunk.

After a lot of pushing, mud flying, carpets under wheels and whatnot the chap suggested I drive the car while he pushes. He looked stronger than me! And after I got my head around his automatic (haven't driven one since Ireland) we got out. Success! I helped myself to a cuddle from his hilarious dog as a reward, and then we were off in opposite directions. I looked like I had done a fell race.

The mess the Audi left

We plodded back. It went rather smooth! Gordy was happy with the route I had chosen. And soon we were on the asphalt again. And then we were on the road for 4 hours! No idea how long that car-pushing had taken. But we both still felt good. And even after four hours my knee wasn't hurting. Excellent! This whole training malarkey works!

When we were really close Gordy did sprints to see if he could. He sure could! I only accelerated a bit. Sprinting is for daft people. And then we were back at the car. I wasn't even dead! That marathon might work out! Spiffing!

I drove Gordy home, where he offered me some sports drink. Not sure if that was the reason, but I would not get a headache afterwards, which is unusual after a long run. All good!

Next week the plan is to do another long one, this time with Gordy's wife (who is coming over from the USA) joining. Will be fun! And then the races are almost upon us!

PS Between running and posting this Gordy has sprained his ankle playing football - there go the plans for a 3-person run! Oh dear.

25 March 2015


The Brits are exam-obsessed. There is the 11+, there are GCSEs, there used to be O-levels, and then there are A-levels. The Dutch only do the equivalent of the latter. At least, in my time it was like that. I think it still is! But now I'm so British I am about to do a GCSE myself. One does those when one is 14 or so, normally. No reason why you can't do them at 39.

When Jenny, my Welsh tutor, said I should do my GCSE "Welsh as a foreign language" (I think officially it may be "a second language", but that makes no sense) only a year after starting to learn Welsh I thought she was mad. But you have to register in winter to do it in summer, and you never know what you can achieve in several months, so I made sure I registered.

Then I got an email there would be a special Saturday class to prepare us for the exam, in March. Excellent! I had to seize any opportunity to improve. I imagined I would be stuttering and bungling in between all sorts of almost fluent speakers. But well, it would help anyway. I went!

I found out I didn't stand out at all. Spiffing! If my level is the expected level I might make it. That would be cool! I would be proud. It would also boost my confidence. And if I don't? Well, then I'll retake it the year after. I'd be sure to pass that time! Jenny thinks I can have my A-level before my contract expires. Who knows! 

24 March 2015


When there is a solar eclipse right where you live, and it is even good weather although the place you live is North Wales, you should watch. How often is that going to happen! I had seen eclipses before; a partial one from a research vessel in 2001, in the subtropics, during sunset, so we could look straight into the sun. Lovely! And a full one in 1999, in Romania. A full one is such a step beyond a partial one it may make you jaded the rest of your life. Maybe I was! I got out of the house to look (I was having a late morning after a late night caving, and a very necessary run) and the neighbour had a day off, so he appeared too. It was nice!

The picture I took with my own modest camera, standing on the drive

In the middle of the whole thing I biked to work. I there bumped into half the school who were watching aided by all sorts of optical gadgets David had brought out. The eclipse by then was pretty much beyond its maximum, so before my bike was locked most people were gone. Oh well! I'd seen it and even got a half-decent picture. And could nick the official SOS ones too! But then it was time for work again. Enough frivolity!

One of David's pieces of optical kit with a nice eclipse visible

23 March 2015

Go in before the roof comes down

Blaenau Ffestiniog is famous for its faded slate industry. In recent years, inventive types have tried to turn its crumbling legacy into new enterprises. I mentioned earlier (in passing) that one of the mines we frequent is also used commercially; you can take a tour there and do what we do, but then with more toys like zip wires and free falls and whatnot. It looks like great fun! We are allowed to play on most of it, but we don't have the same level of kit. A zip wire works a lot better with a tandem pulley, and I only have a single one! And I would fear to use the free-fall device without supervision. Get jumping into a slate mine chamber wrong and you have made your last mistake ever. Anyway. This chap makes a living out of an abandoned slate mine, and he employs a few people. Good for him, but local employment isn't massively boosted. And then there is bounce below, which sounds very boring to me, but hopefully many disagree with me. And a few villages away there's Zip World. I'm not sure how many people they employ. Blaenau can do with more! And then there was an article on the web, announcing a new life for slate mining. Really? Can Wales compete with China? It would be nice! And nowadays mining offers a lot less employment than in the old days. But few jobs is better than no jobs, so I welcome the idea. However; there was mention of blowing the roof off of one of the mines out there. And we hadn't been yet. Time to go before it would be too late!

Phil thought he knew how to get there. And he did! Through the beautiful royal blue coloured evening we walked to the top of the plateau, and found a way in. We scampered around a bit, but there was the idea there was more. Phil mentioned it was a pity we hadn't found the big hole. I mentioned I and a new bloke had been staring into something that could only be described as a big hole, but that the others didn't seem keen to come and have a look. We decided to all go back! We might be able to descend into it and explore the rest. It looked like an impossible job; there seemed to be a vertical drop everywhere. But Sinker had been in before, so it could be done. After some faffing we decided to give it a go. And indeed, it was a lot easier than it looked! Phil and I headed the troops, but our enthusiasm brought the rest down. And rightly so! What a lovely mine, and clearly so rarely visited. I'm glad we've been. David wanted to go back to properly document the place before it would be gone. Sounds like a lovely trip!

Underground pics by David

As lovely as it was; I was keenly aware of my current attempts at juggling teaching, research, preparing for Welsh GCSE's and training for a marathon, and I was keen to get back home and get as much sleep as I could. And we went back.

We might not have thought about visiting this specific mine without the threat of its demolition. So before it created a single job it already did some good. I wish Blaenau well with this enterprise! If it will really happen...

20 March 2015

Long, long training run

After the half marathon two weeks before, I was quite done running after 21 km. If I ever wanted to do 42 km, I'd have to step up my game. The week after I'd run some less-than-21 km run, but longer ones needed to be done too. And my colleague Gordy, who had also run both the Anglesey trail race (but he'd done the full marathon) and the Anglesey half marathon, was registered for the Exmoor marathon, one week before my race. He was up for some training too! And he had a general plan to run between Welsh castles.

We made a plan. He suggested running to Conwy, which has a lovely castle, although there would be no castle on this side. I figured we might run past Penrhyn castle; it's a 19th century specimen, rather than an original medieval one, but one can't be picky. But then I suggested we run the other way around. It would be annoying to run to Conwy and then find out the next train back would be in two hours! Not unthinkable. So that became our plan.

Gordy appeared sweaty, without water and without ticket a few minutes before the train would leave. Oh dear! He had bought a new water bag, but it leaked like nothing on Earth, and he had left it at home. He just managed to buy a water bottle (and breakfast - oh dear again) before the train appeared. A ticket was purchased on board. I hope he'll be better prepared for his actual marathon...

In Conwy he sought out a public toilet and then we were off. He'd done a race here before, so he knew the way. A way, anyway. But we did end up, as planned, on the cycle route along the coast!

The route was largely very close to the A55, which wasn't ideal, but it did the job. We happily plodded on. An hour passed. And we plodded some more. Another hour passed. We were still going strong. But I was venturing into unknown territory; I'd never run further than half marathon distance. I'd been in a race for three hours before, but that was due to lots of walking with a sore knee. So after 2.5 hours I was certain we'd covered more than 21 km, and I was setting my own distance record. And it was getting hard!

The Great of Gwynedd; Llewelyn the Great, Thomas Telford (a Scot, but who built important bridges around here), Gordy, and Margaret Williams, a Conwy journalist

We passed a lovely saltmarsh

When we already had Penrhyn Castle in sight, my knee started playing up. I put on a knee brace. I have these for other reasons, but I was hoping they also help against this particular injury. It did feel better! We plodded on. Gordy was starting to feel the lack of water. He had only bought a small bottle on the station! And I had more, but I wasn't sure how much. We shared, but I think he was being modest.

We needed to insert more and more intervals of walking. And then knee hurt more and more. It was hard! This marathon will be difficult. But if I manage to do it, I will feel really accomplished. The race itself will have the advantage of other runners and people along the route.

In the outskirts of Bangor, Gordy suggested we don't run all the way back to the railway station where our bikes are, but to the clock tower in town. I was keen to agree! Running on reserves I staggered on. And there it was: the clock tower! I had no energy left to accelerate. But I got there. Done!

Gordy immediately went to the nearest shop that looked like it sold water. And bought two litres. And then we walked to the railway station. My legs were made of lead and I was slow. Gordy was happily scampering along! He's like that. He'll be fine on that race.

I was glad to be back on my bike. I had to buy weetabix along the way; I had run out! Oh dear. And when I got home I did my heavy race routine: make tea and sandwiches while running a bath. And then recover in the warm water. I should make sure I have sandwiches ready, and everything as prepared as I can for the big day! 42 km and then two hours in the car: that will finish me off...

18 March 2015

Taking the students to the beach

Earth, Climate, and Evolution. It sounds a bit like life, the universe and everything. Just that bit "Earth" alone! Imagine how long one could talk about that. And the phrase in its entirety is the title of the first year module I'm currently teaching on. You can imagine it's demanding but fun! The practicals I mentioned earlier were part of that (some of them, at least), and I've also started lecturing about it. But the module also has two field excursions; I had to come back from Liverpool to attend the first one. That one visited a beach on the east coast of Anglesey. The month before we had gone there for a recce; now it was time to do the real thing. 

I was pleased with the logistics; originally, it looked like I would have to get up rather early, get to the office, get a lift from there to the mainland, and there jump into the coach that would transport the students. This would take us to the beach then. But this bus would be pretty much be driving past my house; Suzie, who was in charge of the logistics, had figured that too, and had arranged for us to be picked up from my nearest pub. Good job!

Rain had been forecast, but it was nice weather. We got to the beach, and each of us five staff members too a share of the students. And started walking. We had been told to skip the bit of the trip where we get to the base of the cliff; the path leading to it had been eroded to near-absence and it was not deemed safe with tens of students. So we could talk from a bit of a distance. 

I was quite happy talking and pointing. And in spite of them being rather cold (students tend to not be very good at dressing for the weather) the students were rather responsive. It was fun!

We had to be rather executive about it all; we were only picked up at 9AM, and we had to be back at the bus by 11:15. That left only some 2 hrs for the whole trip! But we managed. I hope I managed to show the students how marvellous that place is, with its time warp to the Carboniferous, and its funny sandstone plugs in karst holes. I ended at the glacial till at the far end, and gave the students the choice of either going back the way we had come (which involved lots of slippery bits!) or walking back through the caravan park. They wanted more slippery rock! The heroes. 

Getting off the slippery, sea-weedy wave-cut platform at the end of the excursion

I had whole afternoon or normal work left. Good; I needed that! But it was fun to be out for a few hours. And I looked forward to lecturing this bunch; they were responsive! The very next Monday morning I would get them. For a first lecture of five. The last batch for a while!

16 March 2015

Back to sea level for a day

Why are we studying the last ice sheet that covered the British Isles? Because it may help us understand what the west Antarctic Ice Sheet is about to do. It looks like it is on the way out, and it might be relevant all too soon how exactly that will progress. When will it be fast, when will it be slow? Just asking its older and more northern brother how such things go might help. And it's a vanished brother, but well, we'll just do a seance, or something. This analogy isn't quite perfect.

Anyway; all we do we do for reasons of future sea level rise. So I'm still working in sea level! And I was reconstructing that for five years in my previous jobs. So when a sea level meeting was announced I was interested in going. Keep my contacts warm! Advertise our project! And it was even in Liverpool; that's next door. And it was a meeting in honour of Phil Woodworth, who was involved in one of our projects, and who is a lovely man. All reasons to go! So I threw a poster together and went.

I could only come for half the meeting, as during the second day of the two-day meeting I would have to go into the field with the students. My own session would be on the day I would miss! For that reason I had chosen a poster; you don't need to be there to present it. It'll hang there and communicate on its own. And I figured that there would be at least one co-author of it present. It's harder to do a talk if you're not actually there!

As it was in Liverpool I combined it with a visit to Hugh. He had bought a house in the meantime! I was keen to see it. And him and his girlfriend, of course. So I took the train to Liverpool and met them in town. We first went for pizza, and then we went to their home. It's very snug! But I was tired after a hectic week, and so were they, so we all retired early.

The next morning they drove me into town (luxurious!) and said goodbye. I entered the venue and immediately bumped into Mark Tamisiea, the organiser, and also a former collaborator. Let the sea level stuff begin!

The meeting took place in a very sophisticated building

Lots of pictures of Phil!

Half of Bangor showed up, and some people from Durham, and a former Plymouth student who was now in Sheffield. Lots of acquaintances!

I could attend the sessions on late flood risk (well it was called "extremes and impacts" but flood risk was pretty much what it boiled down to), Holocene sea level change, and sea level observation. Interesting! Too bad the sessions involving ice sheets, ocean dynamics and sea level predictions would probably as interesting. It was good to be brought up to date on sea level stuff again! And the coffee breaks were good for socialising. It resulted in several things; two men who might come to Bangor for a seminar, and a potential collaboration between one of the giants of UK sea level science with a Bangorian who tends to end up spending most of his time on applied stuff. Not bad! We'll see how it all pans out, but hey, first steps are taken.

After Phil's own speech (he is retiring; we'll all miss him!) I had to go. No post-talks pint, and no conference dinner for me. Oh well! It was a bit of a hit and run, but I was glad I had gone. I'm feeling the sea again after all this ice!

14 March 2015

Post-half marathon training

Going straight to plan a cruise at the BGS after the half marathon was hardly beneficial for keeping my shape up. I didn't have time to run all week. But when I came back I made sure to MAKE time (among other things, apparently by losing a library book that I wanted to integrate into my lectures); that marathon was looming on the horizon, and I needed to get ready!

Because my travel back went faster than planned (that doesn't happen very often!) thanks to some strategically delayed train and Jaco picking me up from the station I was home before 8PM. So I unpacked my bag, got into my running kit and went out. It was nice to feel the fresh air on my skin, and feel the muscles move in my legs! But I only did my standard morning round.

That Sunday offered another possibility; I urgently had to prepare for a tutorial that Monday, so I was in my home office all morning, looking at the rain and not minding too much I wasn't running. But by 2PM I was done, and the sun had come through! On Saturday I had had a look at the map, and planned a possible route. So I didn't waste any time, jumped in my car, and went off. And the route I had in mind was amazing! It probably was the old road towards Betws-y-Coed, which was then superseded by the bigger, more modern one that came with Telford Bridge. Only traffic that goes there for the scenic views goes there. It was lovely!

The start of the path, along the waste tips of Penrhyn Quarry, which these days holds Zip World

View over Nant Ffrancon

Convenient traffic mirror

The valley it follows is stunning, but I had only ever seen it from the other side. I was blown away. And for a few miles I even had company; I bumped into a chap who went the same way with his silly dog. He had also done the half marathon the week before!

Because it was so beautiful and I stopped for many pictures, and also because on the way back I tried the footpath that went roughly the same way, but which I promptly lost, I didn't run particularly far for the time it took me, but I had a lovely afternoon! A few more like this and bring on that marathon!

12 March 2015

Planning a cruise

In July, we'll embark on a one month long cruise. It's the brother of last year's 1.5 month cruise. During the last cruise we took 223 cores and recorded some 2000km of geophysics. In order to know exactly where to take that geophys and where to take these cores, you need to put in a LOT of preparation time. Last year's cruise was largely prepared by other people, but this year would be different. It would be pretty much up to Louise and me to come up with core locations, and thus with a cruise track. And imagine how much information you must trawl through to make informed decisions on such things. A lot! It was time we got started.

The marine part of the project is subdivided into transects, and all transects have a transit leader. And this year's transect leaders had come together to at least plan the general areas we would visit (the North Sea is too big to cover in its entirety). They hadn't bothered to invite Louise and me. And they hadn't bothered to give us all the information they had pried out of the BGS. But now we would go and spend a week at the BGS to start the actual planning. The BGS has the bulk of the information gathered in the basins of our interest, and quite a lot of it they can't just distribute. If you want to see it, you have to come to them! So on a Monday morning I got onto the train for the 5 hour ride.

I got to the BGS when the afternoon had already progressed. The drawback of living in an out-of-the-way place like Menai Bridge! But Louise, who had already been plodding on since the morning, filled me in on what had been happening so far. I started to help out. But by 6PM we had to check into our apartment, so not much of the day was left. We admired the place, dumped our bags and went food shopping. Louise confessed to loving cooking; no problem! I was quite happy to let her get on with it. I wanted to have a look at what my students had uploaded on the Bangor University website; I would have to provide feedback on their draft essays the Monday after my return! I had better get started.

The view down the hill from the road our apartment was on

The next morning we walked back to the office. A long day would follow! We were  very aware of how much work we had here. One of the local people offered us 74.000km of seismics. Impossible to trawl through all that! We would definitely have to come back. But we did what we could. It was a beautiful day, but we did not have time to enjoy that. More important things to do!

The King's Buildings; part of the University of Edinburgh campus, where the BGS is too (notice the funny diagonal pedestrian crossing)

During our days there I had two meetings with "my" transect leader, Tom Bradwell. The other transect leaders were based in Durham, with Louise, so it made sense to let her collaborate with them. And Tom, based in Stirling, is far away from me, but so are the Durham people, so it matters little. And I didn't know much about the geology and sedimentology of the areas of these transects, but Tom does, so sitting down together brought me up to speed in no time. I could go and pick targets!

It wasn't all work; on Wednesday we went to the pub with Tom for two quick pints. This was both welcomed relaxation, and networking. I had only seen Tom at meetings, but never spoken with him. Now we needed to collaborate closely! We went to the nicest pub near the King's buildings, which means it was also a pub where Dick and Simon had once taken me when I was visiting. Nice!

When I knew enough about my own transects to be able to work alone I went back to the North Sea. Not my territory, but it is such a complex, badly understood and large basin that Louise needed all the help she could get. She now also feels she has a grip on this place!

We will certainly have to come back and continue this work. But the start has been made. All this preparation makes me look forward to it a lot! The more you know, the more interesting things become. I will have to see how the actual cruise goes; a lot depends on who you get to work with, and how they approach that. But for now things are looking good!

11 March 2015

Reciprocal cooking

When the first term was over I wanted to revive my comatose social life, and I invited some colleagues and friends over for dinner. It was quite nice! And as one does, I vented my enthusiasm on Facebook. Upon which one other colleague immediately invited himself and his wife over as the next batch. Need I specify this man's nationality? No, I didn't think so, either. But I was too slow in actually inviting them over. One has lots to do! But they solved that by inviting me. And after having happily scampered around in a mine with my old Cornish mates I had a shower, changed, and walked up the hill to their abode. It was Marjan who opened the door; I had never met her, but she warmly welcomed me in. Inside was Jaco, the instigator of this all. I stepped in and was immediately blown away by the view. They only live some 100m away, but while I can only see the houses on the other side of the street, they have a free view over Snowdonia. It's not hard to see why they would have decided to buy this house!

Not only the view was nice; so was the food and the company. And it was nice too to speak Dutch for a change! And have a similar cultural frame of reference. It was a very nice evening.

The time came to reciprocate. I invited them over for the day of the Anglesey half marathon; it would start at 9AM, so I would be done by 11AM, and although I would be tired, I would have the whole day. And I could prepare some things (especially cutting things up, which is best done standing up!) the day before. I could imagine that after 20 km on asphalt I would not want to spend any more time on my feet than necessary. I felt like having some fennel, so I googled a nice recipe and went for it.

The arrived bearing presents! They brought some daffodils and some unusual beers. Very nice! And fortunately, they liked my fennel quiche. And they had been a bit worried about how much cooking I would manage to get done after a heavy race, but I think I didn't disappoint them. Jaco has been a fervent racer himself, but an injury stopped him: I hope he somehow manages to get that sorted, and can start running again. I felt a bit bad about reminding him so much of his former hobby by my choice of date! But he didn't seem to mind. It was another nice night! It's good to have some traditions like that budding. And this dinner immediately resulted in practical help; I had to go to Edinburgh the next day, but wasn't sure yet how to get to the railway station. And then Marjan offered to drop me off; she would drive to work anyway! And on the way back. Jaco picked me up. So nice! I hope I can reciprocate that too one day. It's nice to have friends to dine with and to exchange favours! My life has become a bit nicer. Spiffing!

10 March 2015

Anglesey half marathon

It's nice to do a race on your doorstep! So when I heard of the Anglesey half marathon, I registered. And as it would be in my own town, I figured I'd probably see people I knew either in the race, or along the route. That's always nice! When the race came closer, I found out that my running mate Coleen would be running it, and another colleague by the name of Gordy, and the new neighbour. Some of my office mates would be along the route. So maybe it would be rather social!

I got up hardly more than an hour before the start. I had collected my race number the day before. I had my normal breakfast, and biked to the office. Or rather, a bike rack near the finish. Same thing really! I figured after 20 km on asphalt I would want to get off my feet. After parking I walked to the start. There I took my warm clothes off, and dumped my bag. On the way to the bag drop I saw our technician Pete. Very nice! And then I was ready. And then looked beside me. And looked into a surprised face! It turned out to belong to a chap who had been a student on the 2012 field trip to Ireland. (For those following this link: it's the chap bowing down to look at a boulder with a sheet of paper in his hand.) That was nice! He now lived in the Lakes District. He had bagged a lovely sounding job! That was great. 

The the horn went and we were off. I had ended up quite far at the front, as I had just walked from Anglesey, which was the direction we took off from. I was keen on pacing myself, as I knew I would feel better if I finished with the feeling I could do another 20km, as I would have to, in 1.5 month's time. So I ran slow enough to keep my breathing normal. Lots of people overtook me. 

Near the start, on the beautiful bridge

Soon we ran past the office. Funny! And then onto the road to Biwmaris. I didn't know it very well, but it is a beautiful road, and the weather was great. Sunshine, blue skies!

Running past the School of Ocean Science (the two nondescript buildings to the left and right; my office is in the mostly hidden one on the left)

The road to Biwmaris

A bit outside Menai Bridge I saw Andy, Coleen's boyfriend. But no sign of Coleen, or Gordy, or Barry, the neighbour. Oh well! I plodded on. 

The mile boards kept zipping past. It went rather well, I thought! And then I hit the halfway point. All going well! I had needed less time than half my earlier half marathon times, and even though one's speed might very well decrease along the way, the second half had more downhill than th efirst half. I might well run a personal best that day! And with the worst now over, I figured I could speed up now. My body didn't agree. Oh dear. And the weather got colder. The sky became slate grey, and the wind picked up! But one goes on. 

The skies cleared up later, but my speed stayed the same. I just plodded on, quite happy to have music to keep me entertained (on my snazzy new earphones!). And then Menai Bridge approached. A new personal best still seemed possible. Normally, I speed up at the second last, and last mile. Not now! My legs were tired. 

Approaching the finish

And then I could hear the finish. And soon after I saw the turn-off onto the parking lot that held the finish. That, finally, gave me renewed energy. I legged it! I was a bit surprised to feel that much energy come to me; where had it been, only a few hundred metres earlier? But well, I was enjoying myself now, and I galloped over the finish. In a PB, indeed! I came in at 1:45:57, which I later saw corresponded to a race time of 1:45:44 (I clearly had had to wait for 12 seconds to cross the start). Not bad at all! But I didn't see any office mate. Nor any other colleague. But I did see Ben again, the former Plymouth student! He had managed in only 1:33. Fast man! 

The finish!

I got my bag back, and put my warm clothes back on. I hoped to see maybe Coleen, Gordy or Barry finish. But no! Nobody. When I got cold I decided to leave, and retrieved my bike. 

At home, during a nice hot shower, I figured I had clearly failed to pace myself. If I would have, I probably had not felt so tired in the legs at the end. (Only now that I write this, I realise I accidentally ran a best 10k ever as well - they had a kind of sub-finish after 10K, and I got there within 49 minutes. My personal best on a 10k until then was 50:09, at the Plymouth 10K! The only Welsh 10K I had done had taken me almost 52 minutes! Blimey, I REALLY wasn't pacing myself!) But it is nice to exceed your own expectations. I was just within the fastest 10% of my category, and also of women all-round. Not bad! 

But this failed pacing is a good lesson to learn before the marathon. I'll have to pace myself bigtime. I hope it'll be OK! I'm a bit nervous. But this was good training. I only have to keep it up for six more weeks! And then I can slouch and drop down to the fitness of a 10-mile runner. It still is my favourite distance, and I imagine it will stay that way even after the Manchester marathon!

09 March 2015

Raising money for Cancer Research UK

Those who read this blog know it: I will be running a marathon soon. I decided to try to combine this personal challenge with trying to raise some money for charity. I picked Cancer Research UK. Why? Well one has to pick one. Many charities do very good work. But there just had been some people in my surroundings being affected by cancer specifically, and, to be honest, it also is a disease that scares me personally. I hope I'll never have to battle it! And if I do, then I hope the treatment will be bearable and there will be people supporting me. Anyway. Cancer research UK won't do the supporting, but they will help improving treatments. And there is still plenty of room for improvement! So if you want to join the battle, please visit my Just Giving page. And the more people will do that, the more that will propel me. And that might help in motivating me for doing this sort of thing more often...

Cancer Research UK

08 March 2015


When I was about to move to York, Antony offered me his hospitality while I would be looking for a place to live. That was so nice! And when I moved, it didn't take long for two marine biologists to come to my office, mention they would go see a talk of sorts, and would have a pint beforehand; whether I cared to join? That was nice too.

One of these biologists was Bryce, the school Aussie, who would keep up the social interactions, through things like BBQs (one is an Aussie or one isn't). The other one was Leigh, one of the PhD students. He finished his PhD soon after I left. He wasn't fed up with science yet, so he started applying for postdoc positions. And guess what: he was hired in Bangor! So that gave me the opportunity to continue this string of nice deeds that had gone back quite a while. I invited him and his girlfriend over to stay at my place while they looked for a place. And they took it up!

They would arrive on Thursday night. I wasn't such a good host I made sure I would be home then; we would go swimming underground! I don't let an opportunity like that slip easily. I hid a key for them and told them to not stay up for me. They did anyway.

It was nice to see them! Although they didn't stay long; they had a viewing on Friday morning 10AM, and they decided to take that house. The next morning they were gone! But they can now look forward to living in a cute old house in downtown Menai Bridge. It will be nice to have them here for real!

05 March 2015

New toy

I think I was born an old codger. When some new technology comes out I tend to think "harrumph, I've been getting on swimmingly without this, why buy it" and ignore it for a few years. And then I yield anyway, because my old stuff needs replacement, and well, why then not go with something slightly up to date. And then I often realise just how good this technology actually is. Like the mobile phone. Very handy! And the iPod. And all that sort of stuff. And slowly I'm learning that sometimes, there's nothing wrong with getting stuff as soon as it presents itself to you.

I received an email that as having registered for a race, I got a discount on some snazzy new kind of earphones. The don't go in the ear, or over the ear, but next to it. Basically, the music gets fed into your cheekbone. That way you listen to music while still hearing the sounds of the world around you! And I don't like indoor silence, but I also don't like the isolation headphones cause. And sometimes it's even a safety issue; if you run, for instance, you might want to listen to music to make things less boring, but you really also want to be able to hear traffic coming. And it's that what these were designed for. And I figured it was just a damn good idea! I bought them.

When I tried them out at home I was immediately convinced. It's like listening to the radio, but then with the radio coming with you! So you don't feel isolated at all. I can use these in the lab, without bothering anyone, and without becoming antisocial. And I can run with them (maybe good for the marathon - I'll need all the boosting I can get!) And maybe in my car, when I drive through daft corners of Snowdonia where radio signal is sparse. Look at me! I'm an early-ish adopter! All cutting edge!

04 March 2015

Swim or climb

It is not always a good idea to prussick down a rope without bringing the tools to climb back up. A situation in which it isn't could be if you only had 2 hours of sleep the night before, and the only way out rather than back up the rope would be to swim across four flooded underground chambers, one of which rather large. And underground water tends to be cold. Very cold.

Nobody would do that, right? Well, you'd be surprised. It wasn't me, evidently! I tend to love underground swimming, and I am very wary of going down a rope without being sure I can go back up again. So I went down that rope in a good layer of neoprene, and full SRT kit.

Where were we, anyway? And why such a wet place? Well, we really wanted to take our ROV for a dive again, and one needs water for that. So hence us choosing Diffwys mine, which has all these flooded chambers. But the ROV-herdsman said he was too busy to sort out the ROV for a trip, so we almost went elsewhere. But instead of rerouting we just decided to go for a swim without robotic companion. A spiffing idea! Don and Paul weren't keen on the whole swimming idea, and to be honest, Paul wasn't even keen on dropping the pitch, but Don could just climb up after having seen all there was to see in the chamber at the bottom of the pitch, and Paul could just stay at the top. Phil, Simon, David and me would do the round trip. Was the idea.

We gathered in Blaenau, where a cold wind blew. Taking your clothes off in order to put on a wetsuit didn't seem attractive at all! Phil had made sure he wore it already. Changing in the warmth of a building can be tempting! The drawback, though, was that the walk up to then entrance is a fair, steepish hike, and that is quite awful in neoprene. And as well; he couldn't easily go for a leak like that. I really needed one before getting kitted up.

We drove up to the bottom of the path, where Simon changed into neoprene too. I decided to get into my furry suit, and change inside the mine. It seemed more comfortable, and it would get us off that windy parking place quicker! Soon we set off in the glorious moonshine. We first went into a low adit, where David and I changed into neoprene, and we all left behind what we didn't think we'd need. We went back out, clambered up the hill, and went into a higher adit, where, behind a nice chamber, the top of the pitch was. Simon was wondering if he could just curl up and fall asleep in the tunnel. Instead he dropped the pitch, as did everybody except Paul.

Phil and Simon inflated a dingy they found there; it had been brought by them on a previous trip. The slate in unforgiving to rubber, though, and it was leaky like a colander. It wouldn't get anybody across! But it could carry kit. Wearing SRT kit while swimming reduces buoyancy, and these chambers are slightly treacherous. The cold water easily inspires cramp!

We first had a look in the chamber itself. Not many people go here, and many artifacts were scattered around! Simon frantically took some pictures before he too took off his harness. Soon we were all in the water! A lot of spluttering and complaining ensued. And David quickly headed for the other side. I followed; underground swimming is best not done alone. The other men seemed slow to follow!

When we got to the other side (a fair distance) we heard them call. They weren't coming! They figured it was too cold. Oh well. Then they could take our kit back up the rope while we swam all the chambers back to our clothes.

A picture from an earlier trip; pic by David

We crossed the next chamber. A smally! But with nice hobnailed boots prints in the level beyond. This doesn't go, though; we crossed back, and then crossed the first chamber again, but in the perpendicular direction, towards the next one. We had fun! The chambers were easy to get out of, and the water was clear. I was wearing my new neoprene hood. What an invention! It renders you as good as deaf, but who needs to hear if they can keep their neck warm.

David happily floating around

Rather soon we suddenly found ourselves back where we had left our bags. Dry clothes! Lovely! By then we were a bit cold. I happily maneuvered myself into my (almost) dry furry suit. I hang out the oversuit; I had been swimming in it. I figure it provides buoyancy, and perhaps something to hold on to in case of emergency. But I could not put on dry socks. I hadn't brought any. And it wouldn't have been much use; I already overtopped my boots on the way up and in. So while I was quite snug overall, my feet were going from cold to numb. Oh dear!

Soon Paul appeared. He had been pootling around, and now came to light his stove. We could do with some soup! And while the water warmed up the others appeared too. Simon was wearing half my SRT kit; without it he would not have been able to get up the rope. It was good I had brought it with me!

After the lovely soup we went out. Simon had not brought any dry clothes so was still in his damp wetsuit, and David and me were eager to get our feet warm. So we moved at speed! My feet were alright after a short walk, but his (which are evidently bigger) would still numb after he had changed. I was glad we had come here. I would miss the next two trips due to work, but this one should keep me happy for all that time!

03 March 2015

Hospital again

When I came to Hospital to find out if it would be feasible to X-ray our sediment cores, it was just me driving up in a normal car, carrying two core sections in. But when we figured it worked, we have to scale things up. It was decided I would be accompanied by Guy, the lab tech, and that we would use his big fat Landie for transport (it's insured for University use). It went slightly differently.

When we go to hospital I want to leave Menai Bridge at 7:30 AM, so it's necessary to load up the day before. And the day before there was no sign of Guy. And he didn't answer his phone. What to do? I decided to borrow the same university car as the previous time, and load up with his colleague Jess. We added a trolley as well, as these core sections are heavy. It can hold some 8 sections in comfort! And fits in a car. Guy, by the way, did give a sign of life later that day; he was still up for coming with me. And so we went. It was a success.

This time we would just try again. It was all arranged. Until at ~3PM I got a text message from him: he had hurt himself while doing some DIY, and he was out. Shit! By 4PM the porter leaves, and he has all the keys to the school vehicles. I didn't even know if any of them was available. And I was in a meeting when I got the text. I apologised and ran.

There was a car available; the transit van. Well, that will do! And then I ran up to find Jess. Luckily, I bumped into her on the stairs. I summarised the situation by explaining: "help, help!" That worked. She immediately agreed to help me load up the transit, and to come with me the next day. She's a life saver! And as we had the van we brought the big trolley; it could hold all the sections in one go. No need to scamper back for more!

In spite of all this last-minute panicking the actual hospital visit went smoothly. We scanned them ALL! And had 5 minutes to spare. We now have scanned pretty much everything we want to scan. And soon I can do the second batch of cropping and merging! I now now what to do. Bring on the spiffing shells for spiffing radiocarbon dates! And I should buy Guy a few packets of coffee (I enthusiastically help empty the ones he keeps in his office) and Jess a bunch of flowers or something. Life is better with excellent tech support!

01 March 2015

Shopping avoided part 2

I said I might get the hang of it! And I did in the end. Is this me boasting about Welsh again? No, not this time. This is me being glad I managed to find a way to avoid shopping for clothes. I really don't like it! But if you can just get it all done by sitting in front of your computer for half an hour it's not so bad. And I had already managed with shoes; now I managed with clothes too! I'm not sure what it is I'm getting the hang of; maybe it's the lingo. Only weeks ago I had never heard of longline shirts or skater skirts, for instance, but now I know what they are, which helps. Ha, still a reference to that language matters! Anyway, I now have bought new shoes, shirts, jumpers, jeans and skirts, and I can stop buying stuff now for hopefully a long, long time. And some old stuff can go. And I'm chuffed that most of my purchases are second hand! I like that concept. So yay for eBay!

 Some of my acquisitions