31 May 2015

Film night

A good weekend contains a run, these days along the coastal path, and some social interaction. This weekend did! The social interaction planned was a second film night. The first one ended up undocumented on the blog; I admit the blog is biased towards events I have pictures of. And one does not normally take pictures of people watching a movie, and images from movies one can find online tend to be copyrighted. But there was a film night! Some of the inspiration for this event stemmed from good experiences in York, and the paucity of public screenings in Bangor and surroundings, and the realisation my taste in films overlaps strongly with that of David.

The first screening, which was attended by David, Guy, Kate and me, contained the film "Everybody's Famous", which I had seen in the cinema in Amsterdam with my sister when it came out in 2000. I had bought it because I had a pretty awful reputation with regard to films; I do have a taste for very bleak movies, and this is a feel-good specimen. The second screening had been "Tuvalu", which David had brought. It was a very weird film! And a great one at that.

This time we weren't decided in advance. We would just all bring what we had lying around. But about half an hour before it would all kick off, Guy pulled out, and Kate with him. Oh dear! A bit of failing communication ensued. In the end it was a two-person-only film night. Oh well. My TV is rather small, so it's hard to fit four people within easy watching distance of it! And it was good. I provided "The Diving bell and the Butterfly" and David came up with "le Havre"; a Kaurismäki film. I love those!

As with the coastal path runs, I enjoy this hesitant start of a new tradition. I might have to go and order some films!

28 May 2015

Further along the coast

Another weekend, another run along the Anglesey coastal path! I like this burgeoning tradition. Not very much sun this time, and no overly affectionate dogs. But this time there was a raven sitting on a fence post! I am sure it was one; crows don't grow that big, and they don't have such massive beaks. And Anglesey has a substantial raven population. A nice bonus!

Notice the raven

26 May 2015

Nice walk (some of it underground)

It is May, spring is undeniable. And we adapted our Thursday night to it! There was a mine which was a fair walk, but not that extensive underground. A perfect venue for a sultry May evening!

The walk indeed was lovely. There's nothing in that valley other than a few sheep, and plenty of industrial relics. Great! We first came to a tunnel which doesn't do much other than shorten the route for the ore to where it would be processed, but we decided to do this bit the last, as it was rather wet, and the men wanted to keep their feet dry as long as they could. On to the actual mine!

Walking into nothingness

A lovely incline

As the place is this remote, it has a fair amount of relics. We found bottles, a lamp, an oil dispenser, and even a piece of slate with calculations on it. The first two were already on display, but the other two were in inconspicuous places and might not have been seen by explorers before. Exciting!

Artifacts, including the tally slate! Pic by David

We took our time, and then finally we decided to go out. Four of us were staring down the valley. It was getting cold! The others were nowhere to be seen. Then it started to dawn on us. Had they started to brew a cup of tea? We did have a stove present. After a while I decided to go and have a look. Upon going back in I saw a light; it turned out to belong to Simon, who was on a mission in opposite direction. Our suspicions were true; they had started the stove, assuming we were aware of that, and were wondering where we were! Oh well. No tea or soup for us this time.

Atmospheric view upon coming out

We decided to start on our way to the tunnel. There wasn't much to it, but now at least we'd seen it! And then it was time to go back. Anyone disappointed by the lack of soup or tea could take solace in cake, home-baked by Edwyn's wife. Normally, cake would be brought by Mick (though not home-baked), but he was in hospital. We were all sad that was necessary, but glad he now was in good hands, and might be on the way to recovery. He had been taking worrying risks lately! And one only gets one body. Better be careful with it...

25 May 2015

Hospital: routine now

Hospital was almost a distant memory! The last time we had come in for X-raying some cores had been late February, but since we had been to Edinburgh recently, we had a fresh new batch. So it was time to go again!

I loaded up with Jess. The core sections seemed so heavy! And that would become a bit of a challenge: we would have liked to park the van right in front of the core storage, but some pesky jeep was blocking the way. It turned out to be put there by a senior colleague; bad show! But by then we were resigned to get the cores to the car instead of the other way around. And there is quite a steep slope in between. Oh dear. Fortunately it was around five, and many were leaving the office buildings; soon we had three helpers.

When we got to the hospital the next day,and we opened the boxes, all suddenly made sense; so far, we had only been dealing with half core sections! Of the first batch, we had left the archive halves in Liverpool. So these sections really had been twice as heavy as before! It wasn't us. And that meant we had to separate the halve sin the X-ray room, but well, so be it. It doesn't take long!

So soon I'll have another set of X-ray images, and can rummage around looking for more radiocarbon samples. While already half being on the next cruise in my mind!

24 May 2015


While the cat is away, the mice will play! And when the owners of the cat are away, the cat-sitter will play! With the cats. Guy and Kate were away for a long weekend and had asked me to feed the cats and water the plants. Well I would be honoured, of course! The previous time I'd done that, I had been cuddling with the lady cat, but this time, her brother overcame his normal aloofness and went into full tart mode. Spiffing! I miss cats, and hope to one day have one myself again. But until that day comes I'm happy to sometimes get the opportunity to cavort with other people's felines! And I'll happily water a plethora of plants while I'm at it. And then it still counts as doing someone a favour!

23 May 2015

After a 2 year break: cave rescue!

Combine scampering around underground with nice people and learning something useful. And, perhaps, one day assisting someone who is in urgent need of assistance. Cave rescue is a win-win! I had enjoyed it in the southwest. In York I had offered my services to the local teams, but they had said that living in York itself I would be too far away from the venues where rescue would be needed. In North Wales I figured I couldn't afford it as long as I was teaching. But the teaching season is over! And then an announcement appeared online: the North Wales Cave Rescue Organisation (NWCRO) had a training day, and all were welcome. Team members, potential team members, people who didn't want to join but wanted to see and feel how they roll up here; it seemed like a good opportunity to see if the time maybe had come to rejoin. David and Phil had already decided to go.

On the day itself David and I drove the comfortably short distance to Capel Curig where the training would take place. No sign of Phil! He must have been too busy. Maybe better luck next time! We first got a bit of a briefing, and then it was time to get out and get going. We would be split in three groups, and by rotation do three sub-trainings; tyrolean-rigging, stretcher-carrying and radio-communication. For us in that order.

For those unfamiliar with the nomenclature: a Tyrolean is simply a rope stretched horizontally between anchor points. You can use it to move across yourself, or send items or persons in stretchers along. Can be necessary! We hadn't done that in the southwest; we had been more focused on vertical or oblique transportation. It was very useful!

 Rigging the tyrolean

The stretcher-faffing was a bit more old hat; DCRO had exactly the same system, so not much news there. Then we had lunch. Finally we practiced with heyphones; old hat too, but I got to practice my articulation, my conciseness and structure of messages, and note-taking too. All good! The trainers even saw the need to talk over us and sabotage our antenna to make things more challenging. And then it was time for the piece de resistance: an exercise to combine all three things!

For this occasion, we were split into two groups. We each got a stretcher. We were told to elect a casualty, take this casualty's medical stats, plonk them in the stretcher, carry them over an assault course, drop them down, radio their medical details to some controller, then carry them to a tree, rig a tyrolean and then haul the casualty to the other side, on belay, and without touching the ground. First team to touch down wins!

 Sending our casualty along our newly-rigged tyrolean

I think the other team won. But I was impressed with how we did! And it was fun! I think I'll sign up. That way the skills I learned these three years with DCRO are put right into use again! And I might add some new ones.

22 May 2015

Walk to the old bridge

On Friday afternoon I was in the lab, taking pictures of potential radiocarbon samples. My office mate Juan was there too, but he was leaving. Before he went he mentioned he intended to go for a walk with some others; did I care to join? That is exactly the kind of thing I need more of. Nice people and fresh air! And I would have Jaco and Marjan over for dinner that night, so I was restricted in how long I could scamper around outside, but I could always go back earlier. He said he'd text me what time they would pick. Spiffing!

I knew he and at least one more of the potential walkers would go to the pub that night, but I was knackered after a late Thursday trip, and I had some cats to feed and plants to water (more about that later) so I decided to not go and pursue a pint. I was in bed very early. 

The next morning I saw Juan's text. He had actually sent it at half past nine! That gives you an idea of how knackered I was, not seeing that the previous night. But the walk would be 2PM; plenty of time to first go for a run.

When I came back from my run I decided to keep the kit on. If we would start walking at 2, we would probably not be back in time, so I may have to bolt midway. And so I did! At 2 I met up with two visiting PhD students from Bremen (one of which originally from Latin America), and waited for the others with them. Some ten minutes later Juan arrived. The waiting was for Stella and her Colombian boyfriend! It was a good opportunity for the venting of some prejudice about Germanics and Latinos. 

By 2:30 we were complete, and we crossed the bridge, to wander through the woods on the other side, part of which was a botanical garden. It was a nice wander! After a while we got to Britannia Bridge. Everybody was quite interested in the information about this bridge's history there displayed, including a piece of the old construction. Originally, the bridge consisted of two rectangular metal tubes lying on two stone towers. That was all! The train went through these tubes. Robert Stephenson, the designer, seemed to have had a lot of trouble convincing people this would work, and indeed, it seems such a vulnerable design. But it worked for a very long time! Unfortunately, some of the construction was made of wood, and thus the bridge was vulnerable to fire. In the seventies it burned down.

Juan, Sebastian, Sonja, Camilo and Stella with the old bridge section

When the bridge needed to be rebuilt anyway, it was decided to make major changes. By then road traffic was a lot heavier than in the nineteenth century, and the old bridge must have been struggling. Where the road comes through the towers that keep the construction up, it is so narrow most bus drivers go at walking pace. So Britannia Bridge, which had been only a rail bridge, was to become two-tier; the original, lower level for the trains (but not enclosed in a tube anymore), and above that the road. This would be a lot heavier, though, and the bridge acquired an additional arch structure. So although it still says "Erected anno domini MDCCCL", most of it was erected later. And it may change more; it seems the regional authorities have realised that even this bridge is too narrow for the amount of traffic that wants to come across (including the lorries that come by ferry from Ireland!), and some alteration or addition is desirable. Who knows what it will look like in another few decades!

Anyway, enough now about the bridge. We went on. And time was passing. Not much further than I'd ever been I decided I had to head back. So I put on my running shoes, waved everybody goodbye, and scampered back to Menai Bridge. Sad to leave them; it was all rather spiffing. But I had been booked! So once home I cooked frantically until about five minutes before I heard a knock on the door! A busy day, but exactly the kind of day I sometimes need!

20 May 2015

Run along the coastal path

The week before I had decided to run to the northwest Anglesey coast and then along it. The path hadn’t been very good, and I hadtaken a wrong turn, so I had made it to the coast, but not somewhere from whereyou could run in the direction I had intended. I was going to be more efficient this time. I drove to the actual coast, and got straight onto the coastal path. It was a beautiful day! And the path was beautiful too. It was a veritable holiday postcard. Blue foamy seas, rocky coasts with small sheltered beaches, carpets of purple flowers and overly affectionate dogs. All good! I did some 1.5 hours. With no pressure in the form of a looming race! I think I’ll go back to where I turned around this time, and run further along. It seems to stay really beautiful for quite some distance!

19 May 2015


Not much goes wrong underground. When I was member of the Devon Cave Rescue team, we were barely ever needed. Nobody I know ever got seriously injured underground. The worst I've seen happen is in the category of ribs being cracked on pointy rocks. And when I say cracked I mean something quite painful, but not needing medical assistance. But I do know of some near misses. One of these was one of us crawling through a narrow passage, and the material he was crawling over starting to move, almost burying him.

We were going to visit that very mine. Mick, who was the almost-buried one, had stuck his nose in recently, and noticed the whole passage seemed to have filled up. What would it look like from above? And while we were in there anyway, we could do some SRT practice; Edwyn hadn't done much and could do with building up some routine, and Paul needed to brush up his skills and confidence. Mick had even brought an elaborate Z-rig.

We walked to the lower entrance. It was a beautiful evening and a beautiful walk! Very pleasant. Almost a waste to get inside an adit, but we did it anyway. We saw the collapse, and Phil and Simon immediately started digging it. Soon they had a man-sized passage! But we figured we shouldn't go through; it might be dangerous (considering past experiences). We went out again! And continued our beautiful walk up the hill.

Lovely pic of the reservoir with its water level so low you can see both the original and the modern course of the railway

We got to the high entrance and first had a cup of soup. Why not! Then we rigged the pitch, just as a single rope, for now. I went down first. The pitch ended at a broad ledge; from there a ladderway went down. It looked iffy. Rotting timbers, piled deads, missing rungs... I decided to wait for the next person to come down. If the place would collapse on top of me I wanted someone to notice! When David appeared I did venture into the abyss. It looked iffy. At the bottom of the ladder I decided to not get off. I'd seen enough! This place was dangerous.

The others who had come down (which turned out to be everybody but Paul) had a look too. They agreed! We figured it wasn't worth pursuing this as a through trip. And on that note, I started my way up. It wasn't particularly early anymore. It was therefore also clear there would not be any Z-rigging SRT practice.

At the top of the pitch I found Paul, in full SRT kit. It turned out he had just gathered the courage to come down when I had started my way up. Oh dear! We should really do a weekend training. Some more people came up, Phil among them. We sat at the top of the pitch, and I seized the opportunity to have a chat with him in Welsh. Work came up; I wanted to say I was done with marking dissertations but I wasn't sure of the word "dissertation" in Welsh anymore. Neither was Phil. Luckily, Edwyn was coming up. He was just coming past the deviation on the way up (which was probably the first time he did anything like that), but Phil didn't let that stop him; he demanded that Edwyn would reveal what the correct phrase for dissertation was. Luckily, Edwyn managed this multi-tasking exercise. (For the interested: it's "traethawd hir")

When we were all up it had got late. In hindsight, it was good Paul hadn't gone down! It was midnight when we left. We should do a whole day of SRT training one day. Good for all of us!

18 May 2015

Find the benchmark

Understanding of North Wales sea level change is one step closer! Recently I wrote about how I had, by accident, become involved in a local sea level project. Sea level giant David Pugh had found old records, but in order to make sense to them and be able to do compatible modern measurements, we needed to find the benchmarks relative to which these measurements had been made. David had been digging out old Ordnance Survey maps to find out as precisely as possible where they might be, and he had already found a fair few on his own. Things were looking good! So the day came we would set off to not only find the remaining benchmarks but also contemplate where we would put instruments for complementary measurements. We convened with some people; Mike, who is an applied scientist; James, who is turning this project into a student project; me, who is a background sea level scientist, and of course David himself; and then there was Penny, James' somewhat silly dog. A great team! And it was a great day for it!

We headed for Morfa Nevyn, which turned out to be littered with benchmarks, including one on the gate of the local golf club. From this club's parking lot one has an amazing view over the bay! And this parking lot is big enough to throw a ball around; not insignificant either, at least according to Penny.

Spot the benchmark! (Full screen view recommended)

The bay of Morfa Nevyn

The next stop was Fort Belan, a Napoleonic fort which was now in private hands. To get there you have to drive over a broad, pot-holed road belonging to an airfield. Unusual! David was leading the way, and I was hitching a ride. We turned past the gate to a convenient place to park, and while doing that we both saw the benchmark. We had not even stopped the car! This was going well. The owner or steward or whatever person in authority he was had seen us coming, and greeted us. The search for the benchmark was over, but we had a good look around to contemplate where we could put a pressure transducer in. And Penny had a good scamper around. It was a beautiful place!

Keep out the French, Penny!

Where to put a pressure transducer? 

Penny escaping the dock

When we were done we had got hungry. The local chippy was closed, so we headed for Caernarfon, which was our next stop anyway. We had a look at the dock and went for lunch; as a venue we chose the Anglesey Arms, which is snugly nestled in the armpit of Caernarfon Castle, as I had already noticed a year before, looking at it from the other side of the river mouth. When lunch was done we went back to the dock, looking for our benchmarks. By now our luck was running out; we saw nothing of the kind.

We then turned to the dock master. Maybe we should have done that before; he mentioned this dock had been thoroughly restructured in sub-recent times, with no stone left unturned. Including the stones with benchmarks carved or placed into them. Tough luck! But we would probably be able to find benchmarks further inland. Not all was lost.

Caernarfon Dock

Then the dock master added an unexpected tail to our quest; he mentioned there was a rock in the dock wall of which he suspected if it was a meteorite. Could we have a look, to see if we agreed? Well sure. And it bloody did look like a meteorite. Another item for the to do list! Just looking at it you can't be sure; you have to see the internal structure. So we will have to come back and saw some off. A weird task! But very exciting!

If we get a student for this project this person will start in the new academic year; not very soon. But in the meantime we can try and get our hands on the required amount of pressure transducers. It's an exciting project; I hope we'll take this further! If we don't get a student the next round we can always see if the next time we are luckier, but by then it will become a bit late for me. We'll see how it goes! And in the meantime we have a heavenly body (?) to think about!

Run and explore again

It took me a week to recover from the marathon. And then a week followed with one teaching commitment early in the morning after the other; no time for early morning runs! And then it was weekend and I started running again, but only my normal route. And then I went to Edinburgh and ran there. And only in the weekend I came back did I run again in some so far unexplored part of the local area. This time I went to Llanfachraeth; this is a village near the west coast of Anglesey beyond Holy Island. This entire coast is new to me! I ended up running the entire way along a tidal creek but it was nice. More next time! And then along the actual coast! It's nice to run again without the pressure of having to train; if the path is too muddy to run for long distances it doesn't matter much. I'm still exploring new terrain! And running has become my favourite way of doing that.

15 May 2015

I am always right

Another book in the series of "read the classics"! And I suppose the Dutch among my readers have already recognised which book this is: "ik heb altijd gelijk" by W.F. Hermans. I already knew about it as a child, but had never read it. I even had no idea whatsoever what it was about. Hermans, by the way, was not only a novelist; he also had a chair in geography. And he's not the only great Dutch writer who was/is also a scientist; another one is Maarten 't Hart (sometimes publishing as Martin Hart, as Anglo-Saxons may understand that), who is a biologist. And a Bach-connoisseur. But to Hermans now. When I was in a Dutch second hand bookshop and I saw "I am always right", I decided to buy it and increase my knowledge of Dutch literature. And so I did.

What I perhaps should have realised is that this book was published in '51; only two years after his debut novel: "The tears of the acacias" (De tranen der acacia's). I had read that; its main character is utterly insufferable (at least to me) and I struggled to finish the book. It might have been fashion; another very famous book from the same time ('47) is "the Evenings" (de Avonden), by Gerard Reve, who is seen as another of the "big three" of Dutch literature (the third is Harry Mulisch, of "the Discovery of Heaven" fame), and of which the protagonist also could do with a kick up the arse. And this book was no exception; the main character harvested very little of my sympathy. So I did struggle with this book! I don't cope well with annoying protagonists. But I finished it and it did provide food for thought.

The story is of a young man, a soldier, who is brought back from Indonesia after the war. The Dutch all know the following, but maybe not everybody else does; pretty much as soon as Indonesia was liberated from the Japanese, the Indonesians figured it was time to get rid of all invaders, and booted the Dutch out too. The young soldier had been on the educational path to become some kind of civil servant in the colony, but had been drafted when the was broke out. With the war now over, there was no colony anymore, and he didn't know what to do with himself. To make things worse; he had a rather nasty image of his parents, and didn't want to see them. And he was haunted by the memory of his sister, who had either committed suicide or been murdered; either way, at the outbreak of the war she had been found dead with her cousin, who turned out to also have been her lover. Both had been killed by his gun. An unpleasant detail is that this actually happened to the author's sister.

The protagonist has a lot of money that doesn't belong to him, and he goes on a spree of squandering it as quickly as he can, much of it on a woman he met on the boat back, and for whom he does not care, but who at least offers him a place to stay. Does he need that, with all that money? Not really, but he seems to want something he can pretend feels like home.

The only thing he half-heartedly tries to do with his talents (and his anger) is starting a political party. The main idea of this party is European unity. When I read that, I was surprised you don't hear much more about this book; isn't it terribly topical now the EU is balancing on the edge of the precipice, with Brexits and Grexits and bankruptcy and whatnot threatening? Lovely to see some thoughts about this topic formulated some 65 years ago.

Is it a surprise the political party isn't much of a success? So now what? Surprisingly, the man decides to clean up his act: he meets his parents (which seem very reasonable), ditches the girl, and tries to get a job. And then the book ends. Does this man have much of a chance of getting back to normality? Not really, as over the course of the short time he has on land he gets himself in a lot of trouble, and it will catch up with him. The police are already on his trail.

So would I recommend this book? Well, with caution; it is interesting to read all the political discussions with the advantage of hindsight. But it's not a particularly easy read. And if you want to read about optimistic, able, pro-active and constructive protagonists: avoid Hermans!

13 May 2015

Planning the cruise

The itinerary has been decided upon! That is, the itinerary of the first half of the cruise. And that is, the preliminary itinerary. The route we decided upon was pretty much based on seismics from the 70s and 80s; when we go out there ourselves we'll shoot 2015 seismics, and that will allow us to pick our target sites with more precision and confidence. And then there is of course life getting in the way; the weather will have a say in what we do, and material problems can force us to reconsider things. But that is for when we are on board. We have a preliminary route, and that's all we need until we go out there! I'm happy.

I spent another week with Louise in Edinburgh, to finish what we had started in March. And we made progress! And I even got some new cores to Bangor. I brought some cores back that had yielded all the radiocarbon samples they could, and exchanged them for fresh ones. Jess drove with me, and stayed with us the first night; the next day we did the core exchange, and then we said goodbye. She drove back, with the loot, on her own. And I stayed on, to gaze at blurry ancient data for some days more. The cruise had given me a good idea of what the seismic signature of the various types of sediments are, and how deep into a seismic profile we can drill. Or rather, what the 6m maximum penetration we can get looks like in a seismic profile.

We will core in the Minch, northwest of the Orkney Islands, and west and east of Shetland. It will be exciting! And then we do the North Sea; I know less of that as that's Louise's territory.

The work, like last time, was done in long working hours, which were supplemented by marking in the evenings, but unlike last time, I managed to go for a run. Twice! We had rented a flat just south of the BGS, and between our street and the BGS there was only a golf course. And around this (and many other) golf field there was much more green space. We were pretty much slap bang in a green belt in the city! It was great running territory.

The Royal Observatory, standing proudly on the hill between out flat and the BGS

Walking to work; Lou on a path with Arthur's Seat as a backdrop

Like last time as well, we went to the pub one night. This time we took half the BGS with us! That was nice. Tom (the transect leader on "my" transects) this time took us to the Royal Dick. As one does! A good choice. Nice beers, good food, charming puppies that would chew on your hand.

I feel a lot calmer now. The main thing on the to do list for the summer is sorted! I can now happily work on the cores from last year, do my teaching responsibilities, and all these other things without having to worry about the cruise. It will be exciting!

11 May 2015

New passport

My previous passport expired when I lived in England, and I applied for a new one in Wales. I thought it would be nicely symmetrical to apply for the next one in England, while living in Wales. There was a Dutch Consulate in Liverpool. I even knew the building! But it was not meant to be.

When the expiry date approached I contacted the consulate. It had closed! Shit! I had a look at the others. All closed! All of them! The cheapskate Dutch government had closed all UK consulates and only left the embassy in London. London? That's very far away! And there was mention of the possibility to apply for one on Schiphol Airport. I figured that would be the better option. If I go all the way to London I might just as well jump over the Channel and get to the Netherlands. And see my mum! And other people.

The sorting out of the paperwork also contained some frustration; on the list of stuff to bring features an official document that contains your address and nationality. Everyone has loads of documents with their address on, but one's nationality? I wasn't sure of that. For people living in Britain there was another option; some form of the "non-acquisition of British Citizenship". Well I could try that one! I had a look at it and got angry. It asked for my name; so far so good. Then it asked for the names of my husband and father. What the? Which century is this? The last time this would have been acceptable was in Austen times. Bloody Brits. But I dropped the Schiphol people a mail and they said they were less strict with documentation than the website suggested; just a gas bill or so (without the nationality) would do. Good!

I would be a bit awkward. It had to be sorted before the upcoming cruise. But it takes at least three working days to sort it, and I normally don't stay that long, especially with a cruise coming up. But what can one do. I need a passport! I booked a rather long trip, just before the Welsh exams, which would combine the passport hassle with some family commitments. I'll try to make the best of an annoying situation!

08 May 2015

Dissertation student

As part of my teaching responsibilities this semester, I had a dissertation student. The dissertation topics I had proposed were clearly not very popular, as I could have had up to eight takers but had only one. That's alright; fewer students is less work! The student and I had a meeting in autumn in which I gave her some ideas of where and how to start. And then we saw each other again in January; she said that due to other commitments and imperfect health she hadn't come round to actually working on the dissertation, but all was better now, and she could get cracking. Good!

That was the last time I saw her before the dissertation deadline. She requested a few more meetings, but never showed up. I was starting to get worried. Would she submit anything? And if so: what?

Then the email came from the teaching office; we could pick up our dissertations to mark. I thought I'd happily pick up the one, but had forgot about second marking; I ended up with four. (Even one more would later appear in my pigeon hole). But one had my immediate attention: the one of my own student.

I opened it. It looked like a dissertation! I was relieved. And then I saw the acknowledgments; she thanked me for my expert advice. My what? I hadn't done anything!

The next days the students would give oral presentations about their dissertation. I was apprehensive; how would she do? And she was the last one of the morning session. She would talk about sea ice.

File:Columbia Glacier.jpg

All staff present are expected to mark all the presentations, but you are expected to provide more detailed feedback on your own students. So when she took the floor I not only paid attention because I was keen to see what she had done, but also because I would be her main source of feedback. It wasn't perfect, but she had a coherent story! And you could tell she was nervous, but she pulled it off! And then she was done. Coffee break!

I walked towards her to give her my feedback. And upon seeing me up close she broke down. She had worked herself into a spiral of not delivering, then not wanting to face me, then struggling to deliver because she was entirely without guidance, and so on. And now all had come to an end, and all the stress came out. We sat down in a quiet corner. She apologised, but she had nothing to apologise for. She had done it all by herself! I told her I hoped she would draw strength from knowing she had produced a dissertation and a presentation entirely on her own, under difficult circumstances. I hope next time she'll avoid the downward spiral! And altogether it wasn't a very satisfying spell of dissertation supervision, but it had a happy end!

05 May 2015

GSCE part I

15% down, 85% to go! In June, I will have an attempt at Welsh GSCE. But the first part of it is done now. The exam comprises reading, writing, listening and talking. The talking is partly with a tutor during the exam, but we also have to have a 5 minute conversation with a random Welsh speaker, record it, and send it in. And that has to be done by the end of April. Not sure why, but well, if that's what it takes. I had asked Phil (of the underground lot) to be my Welsh speaker. He had agreed, and we had chosen the Sunday after the Victorian trip for this event. We had just forgot to set a time. Phil had said "as early as possible" but we had not said anything more precise. And after the Victorian trip, when I wanted to finalise things, he had vanished. And he didn't look at his phone, or his computer, the rest of the day. And by the time he did the next day he already had to be on his way. Not a good start.

We then decided on another try on Tuesday afternoon. It did mean I had a little bit more time. But less opportunity to sort things out in case something would go wrong! Let's hope it wouldn't. I went home early, faffed around a bit, looked up some last words. And then I heard a car.

Phil greeted me in English. I wasn't having that; I had to be at my most Welsh! He got the hint and switched to Welsh too. I offered him a coffee and poured myself one too. We had a small chat and then I switched on the dictaphones (yes plural; time was running out, and I wanted to be sure I had a recording!). I started by asking Phil how he had ended up mine exploring. A big story followed. I was getting a bit worried. I managed to get a few words in edgewise. Then I managed to say something too, but time had been flying and I stopped the conversation at 6 minutes. Phil asked what I thought of it. I thought it wasn't quite what I had aimed for. Fortunately, we still had coffee, so he wasn't going anywhere yet anyway. We decided to do a second take. Phil suggested he ask the questions this time. That worked! In the end he went off on a tangent about the structural integrity of a specific mine anyway, but that was mainly after the required 5 minutes, so I thought it would do.

Phil said he thought I had done well. I wasn't so sure! I knew I had been halting and clunky, and that I had pretty much not answered any yes/no question properly. Not that I had given the wrong answer; I had just taken the easy way out and avoided the notoriously tricky answers and said things like "of course" and "I like it too" rather than "yes" and "no". Oh well. I am like that in most of my Welsh conversations! We'll see. I think I showed my level and I'll find out in August whether that's enough for a qualification. And in the meantime I'll keep practicing! Phil figured the Thursday nights should be all Welsh. I think that won't happen, but any extra practice would be good!


PS another addendum on yes and no; I explained earlier that what you do in Welsh is repeat the verb of the question by means of "yes" or "no". And that sounds simple, but it isn't; first of all, it means that just understanding the question isn't enough; you have to have payed attention to what exact form of the verb was used. Present, perfect, imperfect, conditional, etc? Was it a normal or empathic question? Do you have to answer in the same person or not? They might ask "did you go" in the second person but then you have to answer in first, of course. And if they ask "did the children go" you have to know that they'll ask it in third person singular, but you should answer in third person plural. And you have to distinguish between the past describing a situation or an action. And between questions such as "is there cheese left" or "is the cheese old"; that's two very different types of "is" in Welsh. So a "yes" can look as different as ydw, oes, baswn, do, cewch, fyddan, gwnawn, dylech, oedd and hoffai. And that is just a small selection...

03 May 2015

Marathon video

The joys of modern technology! Just plonk a few digital cameras at the finish of a big race and flog the footage to all ~10.000 runners. Excellent idea! I fell for it. I think it's footage of my only marathon finish ever! And I think it gives a good idea of how I felt; you can tell from my somewhat angular gait these 42 km haven't gone by unnoticed, but I'm still smiling! And that's how I felt: a bit spent but rather happy I had made it to the end.

The start is on there too, but don't look for me; I started so far at the back it took me 9 minutes to get to the start. The guy at the front in a yellow shirt, black shorts, blue shoes and a hairband won the men's race; the woman a few metres behind him, with the crop top, won the women's race.

I must admit that when watching this, I was amused by the sound made by the man, who finishes at ~4:12:25 and collapses immediately afterwards (~43 seconds into the video). Poor sod! But he made it! In a good time, if I may say so...

(a higher resolution version can be found here)

01 May 2015

Victorian trip

I was more scared of the Victorian trip than of the marathon! Running 42 km is one thing; walking a few kilometres in heels is quite another. I am more scared of the latter. I had doubts whether I should really wear these shoes, but I like suspending disbelief from a solid cable, and I decided to stick with the shoes. They had zips, so weren't really Victorian-credible, but they sure had the look. But I stuffed a pair of trainers into my bag, for in case it either got too painful, or we would be in a hurry to catch the train, and I would be too slow on heels.

The day came. I got into the outfit and stuffed all I needed into a neutral-looking bag: paraffin lamp, candles (for back-up), matches, a bowl, a chalice, a water bottle (glass, of course), a loaf of bread, butter, cutlery, gloves, and the back-up shoes. Ready to go!

Rather punctual, the blacksmith and the reverend appeared. Off to Porthmadog we were! We parked in a residential street near the station, where we fine-tuned our costumes under the disgusted glares of the residents. Not sure what upset them so much! Then we headed to the parking lot where the others were parked. A feast of waistcoats, flat caps and scarves greeted us. Soon we were all ready to head to the station.

At the station we found some more people, among which Don, his wife Elaine and their charming dog Harry. I wasted no time to get some wet kisses (from Harry, that is). And after some pictures we got into our carriage. We had one for ourselves!

Pic by David

Inside our carriage

The route was beautiful. Just a small narrow gauge tourist line doesn't impact the landscape very much, and we rode past dreamy forests, eerie swamps, cute cottages, and whatever else one could wish. They even served coffee on the train! All well so far.

Harry had made a new friend

Then we got to Tanygrisiau. Time to get out! I got a gentleman to help me negotiate the step down and was quite enjoying the novel situation. But that's when it would get difficult. Once out I struggled to keep up, to the amusement of the men who might sometimes experience the opposite. Phil's wife was quick to suggest a pair of heels for him too; that might slow him down! But today that would be bad; he was scampering ahead with the stew and the stove; by the time we would reach the end of the mine dinner would be ready! Lovely.

We took a muddy path, and to my surprise David offered me a hand without prompting. I'm not going to say no to that! So I was chivalrously guided over the mud and the rocks and the puddles. Further on we saw a group of kitted-up children and some adults; they looked like they would go canyoning. On a bridge both groups met; David and I were the stragglers, and by the time we got there, our group had already been roped into a group pic with the children. They don't bump into a herd of Victorians every day! I dutifully turned around for the picture. And then noticed I knew the man who took it! It was the husband of our local sea level expert, who had defended her thesis only months before. I had met him at the party afterwards. I was surprised to see him there, even though I knew he did outdoorsy things with children for a living. He was a whole lot more surprised to see me there, especially dressed the way I was!

We walked on, while the weather got worse. But my feet barely did; it wasn't as bad as I had feared! I should keep these shoes; the least painful heels there are. And before it hurt too much we reached the clapper bridge, which is usually used as a photo opportunity. And in spite of the weather, we took a group picture (with an antique camera) there. Unfortunately, the picture would not come out!

Selfie on the way up

The modern camera did work!

We went on. And got to where the broad, comfortable path changes into a steep, slippery, narrow situation. I got David's hand back! And before we knew it we were up. Success!

At the entrance we did another doomed photo shoot, and then let our lamps. Time to go in! It's always hard to see where you're going when you come in from daylight, but today it was pretty much impossible. I had the faintest light, and none of the light shone down. Not easy to see where you put your heeled feet! And then my light went out, after some 5 metres. Oh dear.

When it was lit again, all except Mick and David had gone ahead. They came up behind me. That made things worse; they had brighter lights, so I was walking in my own shadow. When they passed me things got better. And the terrain got easier while my eyes got used to the dark. I started to catch up with the others! They were negotiating the collapse in a very inefficient way. I might have been badly dressed and badly lit, but I do know my way over the collapse. But I managed to extinguish the light again. I was glad I had brought lots of matches!

From the collapse on it was an easy (though wet) stroll to where the picnic was. There was plenty of light there! And benches. And food and drink. I was quite happy! I had made it on heels, and now I could have lovely food with lovely well-dressed people. And there was coffee and port! The coffee didn't combine too well with my metal chalice, but the port surely did. It was good stuff! Mick had been given it by a former Spice Girl. Not very Victorian (it wasn't that one) but an unusual detail!

Picnic underground. Pic by David (in spite of him being in it)

Some more pictures were taken, but then it was pretty much time to go back. We had a train to catch! I managed to make my way out, only extinguishing the light once. And once out I changed into my trainers. That made things easy; I scampered down the slope. At the railway crossing we were all together again. And we had time to spare; David and I looked at each other, at the weather, and at the cafe we were just passing, and figured the place to be was in there. Nobody agreed, though, and we ended up waling on to the station. Where we realised the train was due 10 minutes later than we had thought. That meant half an hour of freezing our arses off on the platform. That cafe would have been so much better! But we mustn't grumble. Another round of coffee in the train when it finally came warmed us up again!

Steward Sinker looking executive

I had feared this day, but it turned out marvellously pleasant. I wouldn't mind doing that train ride again! And if I ever have to negotiate a mine in high heels again I'll do it with more confidence; on these shoes I can clearly do it. And it's actually quite nice to occasionally have the hand of a bowler-hatted man to help you balance!