30 April 2015

Into the field again

My first semester here at Bangor university was dominated by Ice and Oceans, the module for which I had the final responsibility, and for which I had to give 11 lectures, go on one field trip, and mark field trip reports, desktop studies and essays by the students. A lot of work! This semester I only have a science communications module, for which I have to mark student essays and presentations; I have one dissertation student, and I have five lectures and two field trips with the Earth, Climate and Evolution module. All the lectures had been given, and in March we had gone to the beach. Now it was time to bring the students into the mountains!

The university had reserved two coaches for it. One for certain, and one for back-up in case many students would show up. Well, they didn't; we had about half of them. The second driver could go home! And we drove off. The forecast was not so good, but we drove to Ogwen Cottage in rather nice weather. When we got there we each took five students and were off.

I had heard James do this trip, but he pours a veritable wealth of information over the students, and I had had to revise a bit to keep up. But I felt ready! I hope I made them see some of the beauty of this area. If you know what to look for you can see so much Earth history in this small region! The calm sedimentation in the Cambrian, which had provided the muds that are now the famous Welsh slate; the vanishing of the Iapetus ocean, which made the muds turn to slate and which caused the explosive volcanism that provided the local rhyolites and ignimbrites; the last Ice Age which has sculpted the amazing U-shaped valleys of Snowdonia, and the last glacial hiccup: the Younger Dryas, which has festooned the little valley with moraines. I hope some of this indeed inspired the students. It isn't always easy to tell!

This rock reminded the students of the Stone Table of the Narnia books and films

"My" five students in front of the Idwal Slabs

A crow festoons Darwin's Rocks

We were back at the buses at 11.30 sharp, as we should have been. So were the groups of Catriona, the PhD student, and Jess, the lab technician. But where were Suzie (a lecturer), Colin and James (both professors) with their students? These senior folks mock the concept of punctuality. Suzie and Colin appeared after a few minutes. Where was James? When he finally appeared, it turned out that he thought the bus would leave at 12, instead of being expected to arrive in Bangor at 12. Oh dear! But it seemed the students didn't have anything scheduled right after the field trip so it was OK.

This is the last fieldwork I do with the students until we go back to South Wales in June. Maybe I get to do this trip again next year; I want to get an additional teaching qualification, and well, I'll need to teach for that! And why not do that in beautiful Snowdonia?

28 April 2015

Historical sea level

One thing leads to another. One day you are joining a sea level-themed field trip in the Dee estuary, simply because you're a sea level scientist. This trip comes with lunch; while enjoying this you chat with an amiable man on the other side of the table. Then you move to Bangor, and do work that relates to sea level in a more indirect way. But you want to stay in touch; when another sea level meeting in Liverpool appears on the horizon you visit that too. And bump into the same amiable man. Who is interested to hear of your move; he has historic sea level data from that region! Maybe if that is combined with some new pressure transducer data something interesting will come out. Would I know someone who has can make that happen? Well yes, we have a chap working at the applied side of science (in SEACAMS) who did his PhD on local sea level, and now makes a living doing all sorts of projects that require chucking instruments into the sea, and things like that. I brought them into contact.

Then David Pugh, who is the amiable man in question, visited to talk things through. I brought James along. David showed us what data he has, and what he knows of the benchmarks with respect to which the historical data were measured. These would be the essence of any project we would make of this idea! We decided to go look for them the next month. And advertise the project as a MSc project. The ball is rolling! And it's nice to still be in touch with current sea level science! And having a scamper around the beautiful surroundings looking for Victorian (or older) benchmarks will be a lot of fun! 

 The entrance to Fort Belan, which should have a benchmark somewhere

What a benchmark might look like

26 April 2015

Essays and presentations

The joys of teaching! You would think that when you teach the knowledge moves from you to the student. Often it's the other way around! I had eight students who I had to get ready for writing an essay on a topic from a very extensive and eclectic list, and give a presentation about it. And you get an arbitrary selection; there is no matching of your expertise with their topics. So I ended up with:

Discuss the evolution of flight in vertebrates.
Discuss the factors that may be driving the evolution of a wide diversity of colour phenotypes in poison dart frogs of the family Dendrobatidae.
Gaia: Has life on Earth regulated the planet’s climate?
Effects of offshore wind farms on the marine environment: potential for detrimental implications to marine mammals.
Will loss of fish biodiversity cause a reduction in fish catches?
Why and how do the temperate worm species such as the genus Sabellaria form reefs?
(Only 6 topics, I know; one was chosen twice, and one student is not engaging and has not revealed what topic he'll tackle, if any.)

File:Sabellaria alveolata reef.jpg
A Sabellaria reef structure

A poison dart frog

Do I know much about these topics? Well, I've read some of Gaia books, but that's about it. So I have to read up on these topics quite seriously to be able to mark the essays. It's great fun! Bring on the frogs, the worms, the flying vertebrates! Don't I have a great job.

24 April 2015


It has been done. I did a marathon! I think I’ll never do it again but I am very glad I did it. It went really well!

I was nervous two days in advance. I was still nervous the day before. I packed my bag, making sure to take my time! Once in Manchester I would have to make do with what I had brought. I had nervous thoughts of only finding one sock. Or no shoes. Or something like that.

I drove up, and got to the hotel. I had paid dearly for that room, but probably more because it was marathon weekend than because of the glamorous area! It was rather run down. I knew it was a stone’s throw away from the home stadium of Machester United, and that enterprise wasn’t famous for its poverty, but by the looks of it, there was little trickle down effect! The area was festooned with bare plots of land. Some rows of takeaway restaurants and hairdressers were, unglamorous as they were, the highlight of the neighbourhood. Some of the hotel itself was boarded up. Oh well. I figured I’d be fine! I checked in, and got to my room. Looked fine! A bit many football-related ornaments, but well, I could leave with that. There was just one proper draw-back; the website of the hotel had claimed it was a hotel, restaurant and bar. I didn’t want to have any hassle so I had decided to eat in the restaurant. Unfortunately, it was only open in the afternoon. Oh dear. But the receptionist mentioned some venues around. A pub, a steak house, and some takeaways. Good.

My hotel

I don't normally sleep under such decoration

I decided to go for a small walk; I wanted to check out the start and finish. And once that would be sorted I’d go and find something to eat. The former went well; I effortlessly found the approach I was advised to take (as a slowest category starter). It was soon clear too where the start would be. And the general area of the finish was easy too, and though a gate I got a glimpse of the race village; the area behind the finish. The latter was harder; the steakhouse seemed absent, the pub didn’t serve food at this hour either, so I had to get some takeaway. I went for a promising looking Chinese. I was a bit nervous about eating something wrong. I took the food back to my room. It was nice! Thanks, Chinese! And I went to bed early.

A lonely stadium

The next morning I woke early-ish. Time to get ready! Kit on, coffee and breakfast (brought in from Wales; I wanted to eat my usual pre-race food) into system, luggage into bags. I went outside to check the temperature; cold! I decided to put the number on my leg, and start wearing my bad weather kit. Shirt, jumper, windstopper. The latter two would have to go somewhere along the way; I was running for Cancer Research UK and was therefore wearing the concomitant shirt. It would have to be visible!

At ~8:20, after a last visit to the bathroom (I don’t like having to go during a race) I checked out. That was sorted in seconds. Oh, OK! I sat in my car for a bit; no need to stand around at the start and get cold, and get sore feet. Bad timing. But what can you do. Rather that than the check-out taking a while and me having to stress. At 8:40 I made my way to the start. Unfortunately, I could tell I would have to go to the toilet rather soon. First timing error made! I decided to stand by the 4:30 pacemaker; it seemed a reasonable time to aim for. Not easy to guess the first time around!  I chatted a bit with fellow runners, and then it was time.

At the start

I started plodding. I surely didn’t want to start too fast! That kills you later on. It was busy, but not too bad. And we were first sent through this area with a fair amount of bleakness, but also some remnants of a greater, Victorian past. The first few miles flew past. I got warm. Then, at about four miles, I saw a row of portaloos. I decided to go relieve myself, and take my jumper off (the windstopper had gone at the start). Efficiency! And onwards. I was soon back near the pacemaker.
The first 10k went by smoothly. I checked my time at every mile board; I was doing just under 10 minutes per mile. That would be good for a 4:20 time; good for me! And it felt nice a good pace. After 10k I was in such a strong rhythm I left the pacemaker and went on on my own. The next 10k went by smoothly too. I was happy in my rhythm, and was nicely alternating between enjoying the entertainment along the way (most of which improvised) and dreaming along with the music from my iPod. There were quite some people who had come up with something to distract us; two ladies dancing to a big boombox, a chap with a drum of sorts, whatnot! Very nice.

Some piece of art I quite liked

Crossing the Mersey after 6.5 miles; it's not quite what it looks like in Liverpool!

On the Mersey Bridge

I was glad to hit the midway point. It always feels nice to know most is over. It feels you run away from the finish the first half, and towards it the second half, and therefore the second half, although harder, is much more satisfying. I could feel the 20k in my legs, but was still running comfortably. And I knew I had now reached uncharted territory; I had run much further. But never in a race. I started to notice one difference; I wasn’t getting hungry! Maybe my body was too busy to think about such things. But you need lots of calories to run that far. I had a gel.

I by then struggled to keep up my usual front-foot gait. Oh well, I never expected to last the full 42 km like that. Maybe giving up halfway was a bit early, but what can you do. My calves would soon start feeling a bit better!

It was nice to see the 14 mile sign and the 15 mile sign. It was getting a bit hard, but still easily bearable. 16 miles. Around that time I was running on a stretch of road where the race went both ways. I somehow had the idea I was looking at the frontrunners. They didn’t look very fast! Many were walking. And then I suddenly recognised a landmark along the road. Heck no, we were the frontrunners! I was looking at people who had 7 miles more than me in front of them. That explained their looks, and made me feel a lot further along. A bit weird; I could see from the mile signs how far I was, but the mind works in funny ways.

17 miles. I decided to have a second gel. It seemed long overdue, rationally speaking! But I still wasn’t hungry and it took me a while to polish it off. 18 miles. 19 miles. And then the magical 20 miles point appeared out of nowhere! That was a milestone; I had never run further than this. And being out of my teens felt good. I was still going strong! My speed seemed constant, even though I had stopped checking it, and I was overtaking people; all was well considering circumstances.
21 miles. I was starting to worry a bit. Can you really run that far just on a Weetabix breakfast and two gels? These things are only 114 kcal. I feared I’d hit the wall. Only 5 miles to go, but 5 miles is a lot if your blood sugar level is too low! I decided to stop and dig out an energy bar. It would slow me down, but it might be worth it. When I slowed down to do just that I noticed I was very light in the head. I figured it wouldn’t be hard to imagine me fainting with the end in sight! Better avoided. That bar was eaten.
Late in the race, with a half-consumed gel in my hand

When it had vanished I sped up again. This doesn’t speak for itself! But I managed. And soon there was 22 miles. Ooh. I was in a bit of a trance. Still worrying about my light-headedness, but still going. And then there was 23 miles! Only 3 to go! My heart jumped up. It was hard to keep going, but well, what you do is just plod on. And there was 24 miles! Yay! Almost there!

The people along the route knew that too. I think many of us looked zonked. Many shouted us on; almost there! Hang on! Along the entire way there were spectators, in some areas more than elsewhere, but they were great. Offering us jelly babies, cheering us on, having signs (such as “you are all amazing! Especially YOU!” or “run like you stole something!” or even “my mascara runs faster than you! Haha just kidding!”) and, in case of small children, wanting high-fives (I got lots!).

I hadn’t seen the 25 mile sign, but there were already people with signs like “big smile! The last mile!” Even though I was a bit zombified I was sceptical about that one.And I ended up never seeing the 25 mile sign, but I DID see the CRUK supporters (remember I was raising money for them and running i na CRUK shirt) and I seems to remember there would be standing at 25 miles. It was hard! But I knew I was near. A man in a Grim Reaper suit with a sign “the end is nigh!” made me laugh. And then I saw the stadium.

If you view this pic full size you'll just be able to see the three lattice work blobbies of the stadium on the horizon

I sped up! Now it all seemed feasible! I could see the end! That helps. Unfortunately, it is a rather large building, and you can see it from rather far away. When I saw it I thought a 4 hr time was still feasible. When I suddenly got a sense of perspective I knew it wasn’t going to happen. No problem, that would be a ludicrous time anyway. But I kept my pace up, overtaking many struggling people. And then I could see the finish. I sped up even more! And was so happy to cross that line! A few minutes past the 4hr mark. Good. And pretty much as soon as I crossed the finish, the sun came out, for the first time.

Relief and triumph!

The last meter...

I made my way to the tables where you get your medal and your tote bag. I was a bit miffed in my feminism; the tote bag contained a race T-shirt, and they only had male cut shirts. Why only cater for the males? Well over 2000 women would finish! That should be worth having two models shirts. Anyway.  I got my male shirt and had my picture taken. And I saw someone with a beer! That looked good. And then I saw a guy handing them out. I knew it would be Erdinger alcohol free. Sounded spiffing! I got me one. It made my day. It was lovely, but I admit I had it under unusual circumstances. And then I wanted to get out of there. To my car, before I would have a post-finish-dip! I had to stay fresh for a 1:45 car ride…

Happy times!

I struggled to get out. The place was clogged with spectators! Couldn’t they make way? We ALL had been on our feet an awful long time! Can they just let us out? Apparently not. After this energy spending spree I wasn’t in my most tolerant of moods, and the rude non-runners pushing and shoving and getting in your way made me very grumpy. Luckily I soon was out of the crowds. I put the jumper and windstopper back on (the sun seemed to be finish only) and walked to my car. Very slowly! And I got my official time by text. 04:03:32! Not bad at all! Basking in glory but tottering on exhausted legs I got to the car. I dumped my stuff and was off.

Trying to get out!

My route back took me along the race route for almost a kilometre. It was nice to be sitting on my arse and look at where I had been running such a short time ago! And then I was out of Manchester.
The drive went fine. I was feeling OK. I did notice my left leg was getting a bit stiff (the one working the gas had a lot more to do!) but I could still safely drive. But when I parked on my drive and troed to get out I didn’t show my most elegant side. I limped to the boot and emptied it. I ran the bath, unpacked, got the bath paraphernalia ready, proudly announced my time on Facebook, and got ready to get in. It was too hot! And the cold tap didn’t give any water! I dumped some in which had been drawn from other taps. And got in as soon as it was just bearable. It would cool down by itself!
I drank a litre of tea and some sandwiches. That was better. But not by much. I wasn’t feeling to good. After a while I realised I was overheating. I got out of the bath and lay down in a cool room. I felt absolutely awful! But I cooled down. And after a while I felt better. Daft!  A marathon doesn’t break me but a bath does.  When I had a normal temperature again I pottered around a bit more. Checked the tote bag, discovered a lot more blisters (the only blood blister had so far attracted all the attention), did some more unpacking, hung out my smelly kit, made another pot of tea. And with that second pot of tea I went back to the bath. Now it was a nice temperature! That was better. I just relaxed a bit. And then decided it had been enough.

How a long race always ends

I phoned my mum and then had dinner. I wanted to be in bed early this day! Even though strangely enough, I wasn’t half as tired as after the last Half Marathon. Maybe running fast wears you out a lot more than running far! These things one learns! 

22 April 2015

Thursday Welsh

If you have a marathon coming up, and you want to be well-rested, then you don't go underground, as that always gets late. So the week of the Big Day I skipped the usual trip. But that meant I could finally attend Thursday Night Welsh Class! I always skip half the classes because I find it important to go slosh around in crumbly dark places instead. But it was nice to make an exception! And with the exams coming up I can use all the practice.

Sometimes the Welsh tutors send a mail around to all learners; they announce they'll be in some cafe for a specific hour and we're all encourages to show up and have a chat with them, for extra practice. And by sheer coincidence, such an hour had taken place that very day. I could have done that even on a day in which I go underground, but anyway; I was glad this day, with its one hour conversation practice and two hour class, did a good job in compensating for a Welsh-free long weekend with my sister!

21 April 2015

Fog of Sex

What on Earth is fog of sex? I must admit, I'm still not quite sure. One thing I do know: it's a project by the University of South Wales that involves both scientific research, and a movie inspired by its results (look here, here and here for more info, and watch the trailer here). And what is it about? Students who work in the sex industry. I could imagine they use the phrase "fog" as it seems that the students in question, the people who purchase their services, and the universities these students attend all tend to prefer to shroud themselves in tactical silence about the topic. Nobody seemed to have ever studied the topic before, but it became clear the phenomenon was huge. And if nobody talks about it, nobody thinks about how to deal with it. Sex work is something society probably never will get rid of, and then one has best deal with it the best possible way. Make sure anyone considering taking this step gets (or at least can get) all the information they need. And among that information belongs a good evaluation of the risks. And one should make sure universities have someone students can turn to when they have issues.

There was an email about the screening of the film, with a Q&A afterwards with the filmmaker. I decided to go! And didn't regret it.

The film was made as follows: for the scientific project students had been asked to fill out questionnaires, and there was some place students were encouraged to go to for a chat if they were involved in sex work. Some of these students were interviewed about their experiences. And some of these interviews were transcribed, and then re-enacted with actors. And these staged interviews were then edited into a movie. Simple! If you wish to (and have an opportunity to) see this movie yourself, stop here; spoiler alert! Continue at the three hashes.

They started with a girl who posed in several stages of undressedness for various magazines. She was entirely open about it, seemed to be quite fine with it, and had even brought her grandma to her first photoshoot.

There was a girl who had a website on which she sold knickers she had worn. A woman who worked as a very short-skirted cleaner. Then it got a bit more grim. There was the phone sex worker, who noticed it tends to be the people who want strange things who phone such lines. Her first call involved a bloke who got off on her retching for prolonged amounts of time. It seemed to get weirder than that.

There was a porn actress who had been set up by her "boyfriend". And in the end there were the ladies who had actual sex for money. There were two of these; one who wanted more money, and figured she could earn that in this way. She just blew it on the usual stuff. And she had experiences of men who wanted things that had not been agreed on, and who hadn't taken "no" for an answer. It sounded awful awful awful. She had stopped.

And then there was a girl of whom government figured she should be financially supported by her parents, but her parents refused, and she struggled to make ends meet. She got behind with the rent, and would be evicted if she hadn't thought of something quickly. But she did. She hated it, but she didn't become homeless, and did manage to pay tuition fees. She spoke of the awful considerations you have to make. Have a man pay beforehand, and they get an inflated sense of entitlement which can be very dangerous. Ask them to pay afterwards, and they may refuse. What could she do to make them, after all? She realised she risked her life every day. But she wanted to graduate.


So all student sex workers are female? No, the study revealed that more than half are men. But are the men willing to show up for a chat, and even be interviewed? Heck no.

The filmmaker also revealed that two of these ladies had got into trouble with their universities. The scantily clad model had had to fight for her place in uni, and the last-mentioned lady had been found out by her university, and had been forced to move. The universities claimed they brought them into disrepute. And the filmmaker did admit it wasn't likely universities would show off their amazing sex workers' policies on open days, but this seems decidedly unjust. It's not as if they have in their regulations that you can't earn money on the side like that. And maybe some of it may be against the law, but surely half-naked posing isn't.

He also mentioned all main TV stations had refused to air the film. Silly; the issue doesn't go away when you ignore it! But maybe the word will spread through the universities where it is screened, and social media. And blogs...

20 April 2015

Visit by sister: new tradition?

Last year, in spring, my sister was between jobs. That means: time! She decided to come visit me before her new job would kick in. But the job market is volatile: this new contract turned out to not make it past the first year. So she had time again! And she would visit me again, almost exactly a year later. I'm not suggesting it's good to pursue such short employments (although there are more jobs to choose from for my sister, so she doesn't tend tot have to move house if she changes employer, so for her it's less disruptive) but I would be the last one to deny the benefits of this process. I used my rather calm Easter to get the spare room ready for her, and to get some work done so I wouldn't feel bad about taking a day off.

She would arrive in Manchester in the morning, and in Bangor in the early afternoon, but it was foggy in Amsterdam, so all of that got delayed. I almost made a full working day! Finally I got the message she was in the train from Chester. I came pick her up.

After dumping her bag and viewing my house we had a drink in the garden. And then it was already dinner time! We tried the local Italian in vain, and ended in Dylan's; quite a good place to have been. And by the end of the meal we were up to date on the important stuff. Family, jobs, health; the works. And then the night was over. The next day we wanted to go into the mountains, and one had best get up early if one wants that, especially in a weekend!

We had hoped to do some proper high stuff, but we looked at the forecast and at the conditions outside, and decided to ditch that plan and stay lower. And so we did! We decided to park in Capel Curig and walk north from there, past Llyn Crafnant. We intended to just loop around it and back to the car, but the forestry roads were a bit confusing and we got a view on Llyn Geirionydd for free. The weather was a bit windy, but it was bright and nice, and it was a nice walk! We had a drink in the Pinnacle Cafe afterwards and then we were on our way. Past the shop, so we could cook. Which we did. And we very wildly managed 2/3 of a bottle of wine before we called it a day. Another early morning was looming!

 Pictures of sister in nice landscape

The next morning we left early to get to our trusted venue Cwmorthin. We would have breakfast in the Lakeside Cafe and then have a scamper underground. I went for cottage pie; you can't have a heavy enough breakfast on a day like that. We chatted a bit, and flirted with Don's dog, and then we were off. We changed into our kits; I had used my old kit, my current kit and my spare kit for when the current stuff falls apart into two complete kits. I had even washed the lot so whichever bits of kit my sister would choose, they would be presentable. My washed suit (which Petra wore) and the new one I wore attracted a lot of attention. Bright colours! No mud! We were ready; time to walk the slope!

Phil had thought of a route, but he had had to back out of the trip. We started on that way anyway. Petra asked many questions, I redirected them to the men (oh dear, have to brush up on my mining knowledge), and David kept her updated regarding where on the map we were. We also popped down to a chamber where we had been some time earlier, wondering if there was something to see in a bit we had failed to explore that time. David and Edwyn explored and we sat around. I was starting to worry my sister would be bored.

We went on. Via some detours we made our way to the chamber with the lights; there we had some lunch. I asked my sister what she thought of the level of physical challenge so far; we had done some manways and ladders and scrambles and collapses. But she wasn't impressed yet! The men were thinking of going into a very inhospitable part of the mine and lug heavy stuff around, but I wasn't keen; I preferred to do some of Miles' fun routes with traverses and ziplines and whatnot. And that is what we did!

We headed for the corkscrew. I figured it might provide a bit more excitement than anything so far. And Petra was up for it! David lead the way, Petra followed, and then I and Edwyn closed the ranks. The rest disappeared. The route goes up a steep slab first, over artificial steps, and then the steps go along the slab, to end in a traverse along jagged rock. Petra was OK on the slab, but not so happy on the traverse. She struggled. Should we go back? But she wouldn't hear of it, and after some attempts she got past the difficult bit. On her first day underground! The next challenge she laughed at; a traverse that wasn't too difficult but which was much more exposed. She didn't care. Then there was the scamper on the beam of the bridge; that was scarier than before, as David went first, and he used both beams. That meant putting lateral forces on them, rather than normal ones, and that made them wobble worryingly. But the rest of us just shuffled along on the one beam. Felt solid!

Slightly blurry picture of Petra just after the corkscrew, still in a harness

Underground sisters!

The next piece of kit was a zipline, but Petra had had enough of excitement. While Edwyn tried it, we walked around. A bit further on we found the others, and while David and Edwyn then took the zipline-festooned route out, the rest of us went the "normal" way. And soon we were out! We would go for curry afterwards, but the curry house wasn't open yet, so we first had coffee and tea at Mick's place. The curry was nice. Then it was time to get home. I had to lecture 9AM the next morning!

The last day together started with that lecture. Petra had suggested she attend it. I shouldn't admit to this perhaps, as she doesn't pay tuition fees, but well, I said it'd be OK. Normally I have a good look through them before I set off, but with Petra being here that had been a 10 min exercise. Oh well. It wasn't the best one for a guest; I didn't start at the beginning, I didn't end at the end, it was largely nicked from my predecessor and I hadn't rehearsed it. Oh well, she had a book! After the lecture we went for a coffee in town. After the coffee we had a walk around. I had told her not to keep her expectations too high, as Bangor is a dull town, but she wanted to judge for herself.

When we were back we skyped her family. Five days away is a lot for children! They weren't so keen on the idea they would be asleep by the time she would resurface the next day, but what can you do. It was sweet to see the difference between the youngest ones who were so excited they were falling over themselves to get close to the camera, and the deep-voiced, monosyllabic almost-teenager who seemed keen to keep the conversation to minimum duration. Children grow up!

Then I really needed to do the last sizable run before the marathon. I suggested we drive to Newborough Forest, where I would run around a bit while she takes a walk, visiting Llanddwyn Island. And so we did! It was a bit windy but otherwise nice. But it was as good as dinnertime, and Petra had expressed the wish to visit a pub before heading back. Well that can be arranged! I decided the pubbiest pub around was the Four Crosses, so we went there. And stayed for dinner. And thus ended our last evening together!

The next morning I dropped her off at the railway station. And that was it! I hoped she had a good time. And I'll soon hear about where she'll next end up working! And next month I'm in the Netherlands so I'll see her again. I think Wales made a good impression! And we are properly back up to date with what occupies the other's mind...

17 April 2015

Remains of the day

Ishiguro has started to delve into the mythology of these isles. I, instead, started to delve into Ishiguro's early work. Within the framework of my "read the classics" project, I decided to read the Remains of the Day. A good choice.

I suppose everybody knows this book deals with an old-fashioned English butler. For those who don't know much more; spoiler alert! I will reveal more than people who still want to read it will want to know. Anyway; it is a report by this butler of a road trip he undertakes. During this trip he contemplates his life. He used to be in the service of an English Lord, but nowadays he is serving the current owner of the estate: an American businessman. Initially it's not quite clear what happened with the Lord, but all gets revealed along the way.

Why is he on a road trip? He figures the house is under-staffed, and he has reason to believe the former housekeeper of the mansion might want her job back, so he sets off to see if that is so. Is this a business trip? Of course not.

From his reminiscences you can tell there was something in the air between him and the housekeeper in question, but it is also clear he did not know what to do with that. He knows being a butler. He knows how to keep his upper lip as stiff as a very stiff thing. He knows how to run a household, and how to stay in the background, being impeccable, and making everything run smoothly. He does not know how romance could fit into that. He does not respond. There is even a scene in the book where the sexual tension is tangible, even though it is narrated by this emotionless man who does not acknowledge it. And the woman gives up. She accepts a marriage proposal from another man, and leaves.

The road trip takes place some 20 years later. The butler has received a letter from the housekeeper, which suggests to him her marriage is over, and she pines for her time at the mansion. Hence the trip.

And the old Lord? He had a chivalrous view on the enemy his country defeated in the first world war, and it seemed this old enemy sees possibilities of using that view to its advantage. And not everybody responds kindly to these goings-on; the man dies disgraced. Hence the arrival of the American businessman. And dealing with the tension between the butler's unquestioning loyalty and the shameless curiosity of the outside world for this perceived baddie also provides food for thought.

This all sounds very gloomy, but there is space for amusement too. The butler struggles a bit with the much more jovial and informal approach of his new employer compared to the old one. But he is a butler; he aims to serve! He does not want to let the stiff upper lip loosen a bit, but he realises times may have changed, and he might HAVE to add "banter" to his professional skills. Not a light task!

And all well that ends well? No. In the end the man acknowledges he actually has feelings; and not just any feelings, but feelings for this specific lady. Unfortunately; her marriage is not as over as he thought, and he will have to take these feelings home, empty-handed. To his bantering employer. A Doctor Zhivago-like melancholy ending! Makes not only the butler think...

16 April 2015

Rope trip

We'd been scampering around in slate for weeks on end. It was time for something else! And something rather specific. We had a new member since a few weeks, and he knew his mines but not yet his rope work. So we decided to do a trip with three vertical pitches.

It was a nice trip! The rope work was a success, the mine was pretty as always, I went somewhere new (up to my armpits in cold water, of course) and we even were out early enough to get a pint. That hadn't happened in ages!

Pretty flowstone

Men in red in an orange mine

15 April 2015

Finally: Crib Goch

Even before I had moved up to Wales, people had told me Crib Goch was a ridge to visit. Crib what? It means as much as the red arête (which is also a very good name!), and that is a rather descriptive name. The rock is rather rusty, and it is such a textbook example of a glacially-carved, sharp mountain ridge I've used it in my glaciology lectures. And it is one of the access routes to the top of Snowdon. A good-weather-route only! Just google "Crib Goch rescue" if you don't believe me. And just because it is a bit challenging that it was recommended to me. 

I'd not done it yet; a Crib Goch trip requires a clear day (you don't get much out of it if you can't see the view); absence of wind, so you don't get blown off; and a day on which you rise early. And finally, the forecast was bright. And windless! And there was nothing stopping me from rising early. So I was going to seize this opportunity!

So why the early start? Well, I got to the designated parking lot at 7:45 and it was already some 80% full. That's what you get on a sunny day, especially if it is something like Easter Tuesday and many people have a day off! But I parked, paid the substantial charge, and set off. The route starts the same as the Pyg Track; when that crosses the ridge you head up, rather than ahead. Still on the Pyg Track, a Derbyshire man overtook me. Soon it got scrambly! As expected. 

A last view on the hostel on the pass, where I was parked

The funny basaltic structures you can see at several locations near Snowdon

After a bit of scrambling another man overtook me. These would be the only people I would see on the ridge! After lots of scrambling I got to the ridge. And blimey, it is narrow indeed! Really not a place you want to be in heavy wind. But it was a good day for it! It was a beautiful place, and an interesting scramble. 

On the last climb before the merging with the Miner's and Pyg paths I found a pole. Surprise! Might come in handy; I have one broken one. And then I was at the main path. It was busy there! It had taken me some 2.5 hours.

Approaching the top of the crib. Notice the bedding plane! At least, I think it is bedding. 

Too bright to look into the sun!

Panorama with a conspicuous quartz vein in the centre. Snowdon is almost hidden by the veined peak; Lliwedd on the left

I walked to the summit. I had figured I might walk the entire horseshoe; that would be another ridge on the other side, but by the looks of it, not such a scrambly one as Crib Goch. I started in that direction. It started steep and messy on a scree slope. I was slow! I did not want to take one wrong step and then kiss my marathon goodbye. I was wondering a bit if Lliwedd, the other ridge, was such a good idea. But then the landscape got milder. Time for a sandwich and a cuppa! And a look on my phone. Oh dear; messages from the bike repair man who wanted to come give me my bike back, and from a student. The world wanted things from me.

No trains today, by the looks of it!

Gate keepers of the path down

The path over Lliwedd, which I didn't take in the end

Then I came across a family. Did they come from Lliwedd, I asked. No; they had come up the side of the valley. Aha! Another option! I decided to go for that one. A wise choice, I think! It was a nice route, new to me, and clearly quicker than Lliwedd. Soon I was back on the miner's track. And then it's not long before you're back at the car. I was home before 2PM! An efficient day...

14 April 2015


What to do in the Easter weekend? Go for a hike, of course! At least; that was what the answer used to be. Since the dawn of time, my Dutch hiking friends have been going to some nearby foreign region to spend this short holiday leisurely hiking around. I've been doing it for years myself! But moving abroad changes that.

It tends to take many hours to get to our destination. And if you're living abroad, it becomes much more. And then you've travelled for an entire day to end up somewhere that is not even half as pretty as your back yard. I don't come anymore! And I know it's nice just for seeing friends, but with all the travel involved it's not an efficient way.

So then what? Stay home? Work? Travel elsewhere? I contemplated visiting the Netherlands, but that's a funny choice if all your friends have just left the country. I contemplated visiting my sister in Finland, but that timing wasn't good for her. In the end I didn't plan anything.

And then my other sister phoned. She had time to visit me! And she didn't choose Easter, but the weekend after. And that gave me the idea I would just work over Easter, so I would feel good taking days off to spend with her only days later. Plan!

Two things got in the way. Or three. One: working when the university is closed is rather depressing; it is empty and cold. Even if the weather outside is nice, my office stays freezing for a long time. It's not very motivating. Second: the weather indeed was great. And third: I managed to lose my access card. With the university closed, that did it! And I did do some stuff: I tracked down my office mate Juan, who is both staff and student, so he has a card for each function, and can spare one. But that card would only get me into the office, and not at my cores. And it's the cores it's all about these days!
Fog over the strait

So then what? A reasonable thing to do would be going into the mountains. If it is great weather that's the obvious thing! One day I got up early to do just that, but when I got up and looked out of the window I stared straight into a pea-souper of a fog. Forget it then! I checked whether the fog reached beyond the strait and then aborted the mission. So then what? I did some work (before I lost the card), I did some chores, I did a bit of reading the newspaper while drinking coffee, I wrote letters, I took steps towards landing in this century (more news about that later!), I contemplated going on holiday this year (more about that later too!), I did my weekend training run, I bought new shoes, and I didn't do an awful lot of Welsh (oh dear).

And then, on Monday evening, I checked the weather forecast and saw that the next day would be perfectly bright. I decided I should go for it after all! I got my bag ready and set the alarm at 6.30. The Easter weekend would go out with a bang! Crib Goch here I come!

09 April 2015

New running shoes - again

If you buy a piece of kit, then you have a piece of kit! For some kit that holds. But some kit is more evanescent than other. If you buy a pair of mountain boots you're sorted for years. But running shoes are like tubes of toothpaste. You think you're sorted if you've bought one, but before you can say "oral hygiene" you need to go and buy the next.

I bought my first pair of running shoes in January 2011 and figured that was it. But when I was in York I bought my second pair, as I had worn the first pair out. I was in York only from June 2013 to late March 2014; that first pair lasted me some three years! But my habit got worse, and I wore these shoes out too. Because I have such a funny gait (I don't run with my feet horizontal, but tilted outward, so I land on the outside of my feet; especially with my right foot) I wear out the right side of the sole of my right shoe in not time. In November 2014 I bought my third pair. And these still work, but I figured I might want to have two pairs of running shoes. A pair of the best and most expensive for long runs, and a cheaper pair for my mundane morning runs. I don't think I need all that technology for these few miles! It is my calves, rather than my shoes, that provide the bounce. If I can't bounce all the way for some reason, I need difficult shoes. So now I've just bought my fourth pair of running shoes! I feel like I single-handedly keep the running shoe business afloat. But that's OK. I wouldn't want to run without!

All my running shoes, ever! The ones in the centre are my off-road shoes; I never wore a pair of those out.The rest are all road shoes. And no it's not as if I suddenly think white, pink and blue is such a lovely combination; I pick shoes on how they feel...

The typical wear pattern on my shoes: the bit near my little toe is totally gone, but the rest of the sole is pretty much intact

08 April 2015

Running gets easier

Last week my tenacity was tested. Doing twenty miles on one's own in atrocious weather is for the stubborn. It was supposed to be the longest training run; this week I should do some 10 miles. Easy peasy! And the weather was forecast to be a lot calmer. Cloudy, but dry, and not very windy.

Things got better. David has drawn my attention to a bicycle path along the river that drains the reservoir near Llangefni, which I had run around twice already. I suppose it originally drained onto the sea pretty close to the town, but the Welsh had invited the Dutch at some time it seems, and had them drain the sea arm in order to provide more arable land. The river had, or course, been straightened. It looked like a nice run for this stage of the training; flat, on asphalt, and indeed 10 miles long (it could be longer). And as David lives around the corner this route came with added perks. I figured I might park at his place, do the run, and then have him make me a coffee. And he fell for it! 

On an unexpectedly sunny day I parked up on his drive. I could hear some rummaging sounds; it sounded like David engaged in his default activity: faffing with very old cars. And indeed; I found him surrounded by large bits of Landrover. He suggested a pre-run coffee; how could I refuse? It was even warm enough to enjoy that in the garden, in the sun.

After the coffee I set off. It was a rather straightforward route! It was stunning weather, and after only minutes I was running in a T-shirt. It's spring! The weather was better than the view, even though that wasn't bad either, but the path along the straight river was so devoid of surprises I decided to run with music. And after 45 minutes I reached the waypoint. Time to turn back! And with the thought of more coffee I accelerated a bit too much perhaps. But I had seen worse, and after another 45 minutes I was back where I had started. David was surprised to see me this soon, but hey, after these monster runs the past few weeks I barely bat an eyelid at a 10-miler.

View from the bridge where the path crossed the river

Coffee was abandoned in favour of squash, hot cross buns, and jacket potatoes. And then I helped David lug some extra large chunks of Landrover around. Then it was time to go home again. And this route had none of the drama of the previous week, but it was rather spiffing to run in the sun, and from a base where someone made me beverages! Next week is the last training weekend; that should just have an eight miler. Maybe with my sister!

05 April 2015

Caving or running: the Easter edition

Getting ready for a marathon requires rest. Caving (or rather, mine exploration) requires commitment until late. Last week I already lamented about it. But this week things were easier; it was the Easter period, and the university was closed. I went to work anyway, of course; but with most people gone and the heating off it just wasn't a place you want to be full time. So I got out of bed an hour later than normal that Thursday. And of course, the night was long! So long, in fact, I fell asleep in David's car on the way back. But the day after I just got out of bed even later. I still got quite some core sections scrutinised, so no problem! Next week we finally plan to do something less time consuming. And I won't fully believe it'll be a short trip until we came wandering out, but it's reassuring it could be!

Hands in the mud

We're almost going back to sea and only now do I get to rummage around in the cores we took last year to look for something to date. Better late than never! After getting the cores, getting sidetracked by teaching, making core logs, X-raying the interesting sections, combining the X-rays with the logs, and looking for interesting-looking shadows that could be shells, finally the time has come. And the first core immediately yielded stuff! So a year in, and the project is finally yielding what it should. Science is rarely a straightforward thing!

This is what you hope to see; an articulated shell! At the surface of the core there was NOTHING to see here...

Rummaging in the core with the X-ray on the screen

 And there it is: the articulated shell!

Some less flashy but still worthy shell unearthed

03 April 2015

The BIG training run

The first proper training run had left me doubting seriously whether this entire marathon malarkey was a good idea. The second one gave me faith that is was! And got me a bit of a tan. But the pièce de résistance was still to come. A proper 20 mile run. That was scheduled for the week after the sunny run with Gordy. The plan was to run in a group of three; Gordy's wife Claire would join. And somewhere during the week I managed to compose a rather lovely route, if I may say so. All looked well!

And then I got a message from Gordy; he had injured his ankle during a game of football. Oh no! Such a risky sport. All my office mates (whom he plays with) are perennially limping or black-eyed or swollen or a combination of all. This injury clearly ruled out running 32 km. I would have to go alone!

The weekend approached. The weather forecast got worse and worse. I was glad I had found a nice route; it would have to be the landscape that would keep me going. I checked; the Met office claimed it would rain the entire day. Didn't matter when I'd set off, then. I randomly got ready and got into the car. The pouring rain did nothing for my enthusiasm but hey, a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. At least it wasn't too windy. In Menai Bridge, that is.

When I parked where I intended to I noticed that there, actually, it was very gusty. And rainy. Oh well. I had initially intended to run in a wind proof jacket; I decided I had better go for waterproof. Not entirely feeling it I went off. It started very steep uphill, too!

Soon I got to a junction. I wasn't sure what to do there, but I had only just started so I didn't want to stop and check the map. The horizontal rain wasn't helping. I went for what seemed right. Soon I got to a gate where a bunch of GoreTexed youngsters were huddling together. I started to realise I might accidentally be doing this trip in different order from what I had intended. A look on the map confirmed this. Oh well, this worked too. As long as I would turn around here and take a right turn. That would take me to the reservoir that I had approached from the other side back in more wintery days. There I would turn back, retrace my steps to that very gate, and then go through and proceed to the next reservoir. And so I did.

I kept coming across small groups of dripping teenagers. I suspected it had something to do with the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. They were nice! Getting out of my way, offering me Maltezers. But they were the sunniest I encountered; the weather was so atrocious I was wondering if I stood a chance to complete the whole 20 miles. But for now I just struggled on. And I got to the reservoir. It was pretty!

Wales: even pretty in shitty weather! 

The reservoir! Seen from the other side here

The second time I got to the gate there was again a group there, but this time they weren't human

On my way back I bumped in the same groups as I had seen at the gate. This time they stopped me and asked what I was doing. I explained. And so did they; they turned out to not be DoE kids, but army cadets! That's some boyscoutish program, associated with the actual army, they have here.

Going mildly downhill, and this time with the rain in my back, things got easier. But that way I reached the point where I made a wide U-turn. The rain picked up again, and the wind was in my face again! And the path got muddy. Too muddy to run, quite often. This wasn't going too well. But I scampered on.

It was the landscape again that saved me. This valley was beautiful too! Better than the previous one! Unfortunately, the path was so wet (and the air so cold) I couldn't feel my feet for miles. But I knew I was getting close to the furthest point on the route. That was good!

In full size you can see the concrete wall, and some colourful dots which are cadets

I knew I was heading for a reservoir, but I wasn't ready for the enormous yet discontinuous concrete wall that lined half the valley. What was that all about? The reservoir had been intended bigger, but after building most of the dam they had given up? I hope some local knows about this. It looked a bit surreal! (NB: I googled it. Read the story here!)

Panoramic picture which the breach indicated, for those who followed the link about the concrete wall (click for full size, evidently)

I ventured onto the path I would take into the valley, but only until it would get small. It was very rocky and wet. I walked. Oh well. And the valley floor was a veritable swamp. I wasn't quite sure until what point this path was part of my route; it looked a bit different in real life from on Google Maps. I made an executive decision. I took a pic of the furthest point and turned back. I was glad to reach the main path again; that was runnable. Mostly...

Feeling better by this time! Dryer, too. Except for my feet. Notice the river on the path behind me...

I knew from there I would just follow the path, which would turn into a road after a few kilometers, all the way back to the car. And soon the path was rather smooth. And as a road, it was even more so. And I had the wind in my back again. I was making good progress again! Soon I could feel my feet again. And even later even the sun gave a small acte de présence. Maybe I should have waited a bit anyway; the worst weather had all been in the first hour! But that is Captain Hindsight (a not so useful superhero) speaking.

In the end there was some blue sky to be seen, in the distance!

The last mile was hard due to its steep descent, but at least it was dry. I wasn't even too knackered! And my knee was still alright. It had taken me some 4 hr 15; not bad. Thirty-two kilometers and all still well; if I can do that I can perhaps do 42 kilometers on the flat, and with a screaming audience! And chances are the weather won't be this awful on the day of the race. I think I'm ready! If I keep up the running (but not this far) up I should be fine. Watch this space! Three weeks to go...