30 September 2015

Dog to the rescue

If you have a dog, you have to go walk it several times a day. Every day. It does get you out into the fresh air, probably also early in the morning! But I suppose it can be a bit of a burden.

If your friends have a dog, you can share the fun without the responsibility. And I have friends with a dog. The aforementioned Guy and Kate have a young border collie called Pi*. He's lovely! He started out so fluffy he was spherical. Now he's grown up so much he is dog-shaped. And he needs dog walks.

Guy used to have an office right next to the lab; I would bump into him all the time when I was doing lab work. But he has moved to a distant corner of our mini-campus, and now I don't see him anymore. I figured I might join him walking the dog, so we could catch up! And I wouldn't complain about then reconnecting with the dog as well. And Guy was up for it. And I went in at the deep end: the morning walk! I don't normally get up before seven on a Saturday; to be honest, I rarely get up before eight on a Saturday. But now I would. And I would have to spend most of the rest of the day doing chores; there was a lot waiting for me. If you get up early the day is longer!

Guy picked me up at seven. Kate had a cold and didn't join. And it was a beautiful morning! We went to where my good-weather-morning-run goes. I might try to meet them on my actual runs; I now know their route. It's easy to see why it appealed to them too, with its lovely woods-by-the-sea views. And throwing a stick for Pi (even if it looks like a sex toy - I think they got him that strange ballistic object because he's still teething) is always nice. It was indeed a great start of the day! And by eight I was back home and could start on the chores. And by 4PM I had made such progress I allowed myself the afternoon walk too. That one lead to the beach (the one we take students to). I'm glad it's Guy and Kate who have the responsibility for this silly youngster but I'm really happy I can share the fun! And if Pi gets used to me, I might one day walk him if Guy and Kate themselves are either away, ill or otherwise not able to fulfill their duties. I owe them one!

Pi on the beach

*And two cats, but I think they lost their prominence in said household...

29 September 2015

Talking about education

When I was writing the previous blogpost about giving a taster lecture to the new students I ended up on a bit of a tangent. When I talk with Brits we often end up discussing the different approaches to it in the two countries. In the UK, both primary and secondary school are a one-size-fits all; the only difference between one school and the next is basically how well-equipped they are in teaching this generic education sausage. And that's where class society comes in: you have places like Eton and Harrows for the upper class, schools with sports fields and music facilities and extra support for those with special needs and all such stuff for the middle class and whatever's left for the working class. And of course things have become a bit less black-and-white than this but I suppose in essence it's still true. And parents will go to great lengths to ensure their kids can go to a good (read: middle class) school.

At the end of your secondary education you do your A levels and these determine what university you can get into. Universities decide what grades they demand for letting students in. Aim too high and you won't get many; aim too low and only those who won't get accepted anywhere else will come to you. It's a strange game.

I like the Dutch system much, much better; at around 12 you choose what direction you want your life to go into. Do you want to be a farmer, surgeon, accountant, engineer? Then you choose the education that fits that. And there, of course, are also routes you can take that allow you to postpone the decision for a bit. But between 12 and 16 to18 you get tailored education; both regarding content and level. Brings out the best of each youngster! And if you have chosen to go the university route the only thing you need to do is get yourself a diploma from the academic-style secondary school you've gone to and Bob's your uncle. Mind what subjects you choose though; some university programs require you do e.g. maths or chemistry. But once that's sorted you're on your way!

My old school (not a school anymore)

I think the Dutch system both allows everyone to develop their skills in an efficient way, which not only is rather effective but also keeps people motivated; if you force your, say, future linguist and software engineer to do the very same education all the way up to the age of 18 you get very frustrated and badly educated professionals I think. And as your A levels mean to much for your further career there is a lot of pressure on rather young people. When you're young you might be rather busy figuring yourself out; there should be space for that! So I am very happy I was educated in the Netherlands. Will the Brits ever come to agree with me to such an extent they change their system? Time will tell...

PS Did I ever mention I also think Dutch language education is far superior to the British version? Oh did I? How unexpected...

28 September 2015

Teaching fresh freshers

Never let a fresher go. I had not really thought about the consequences of the differences between the Dutch and the UK university admission policies, until I started doing PGCert. But the difference is fundamental; in the Netherlands, everyone is welcome to come to university to study whatever fancies them*, and quite some of those will realise they might not have chosen wisely the first time around. If that is the case, you move on and try something else, either inside or outside university. I think that works rather well; your late teens and early twenties are a fine time to figure out who you actually are.

In the UK, it's different. Your A levels determine what university you can go to study what. The university that takes you on will then want to keep you; they lose a lot of money if they don't. So the pressure is on at the end of secondary school, and once you have your A levels your fate has been pretty much sealed. With a tuition fee of £9000 per year you don't want to have "trial and error" as your guideline; not that you would have as wide a choice. Neither the students not the universities can really afford second chances! So when a new cohort of first year students appears in September they have to be welcomed warmly. We're stuck with each other. The good thing is: they would be as motivated as we are, for the same reason.

the Main Arts building. Pic by David Stowell

Term starts with "welcome week"; I suppose that's how things are in most places. And Ocean Sciences include a session of taster lectures on the Friday. The organiser, Andy, needed people for that and I volunteered. More teaching experience, and this would be the free-est I'd ever be teaching!

I started to prepare some lecture about how spiffing the ocean was, but then there was a coffee morning for mature students, where one of those mentioned the sheer debauchery that the new students had hurled themselves into. I ditched the lecture. How to keep students entertained who are terminally hungover and who have just endured 1.5 hours of uninterrupted teaching (I would be the last of five?) And as well: how would I fill the shoes of the rather stellar teaching staff preceding me? I knew the two chaps just before me were very impressive. I decided to take some very interesting detail in Earth's climate history, and explain it through the medium of a quiz.

The main question I decided to try to answer with the students was "do the Himalayas cause weight gain in marine micro-organims?" I figured that was a daft enough title to elicit some interest. And it allowed me to elaborate on how everything in the Earth system hangs together. How the Earth's crust influences the atmosphere which influences the oceans and how microfossils document the lot. And I subdivided all into discrete questions I made the students answer by raising their hands.

I think it went well! I got responses! And there was generally a nice number of students that knew (or guessed) the right answer, so it was neither too boring nor too complicated. And I saw some pennies drop in the audience. It wasn't easy to think of something engaging and informative but I'm glad I gave it a try. And I think this will be a fine cohort. Good, because we're now stuck with each other!

* For those unfamiliar with the Dutch university entrance policy (of the nineties): in order to get into university you do, of course, need a qualifying diploma of sorts, but it tends not to matter whether you got top grades or just scraped through, unless you want to do one of the few programs that have a student limit; in my days, that were Dentistry and Medicine. No idea how things are now...

27 September 2015

Yet another new Welsh course

It's that time again! I had been in a Welsh class, the so-called "Cwrs Pellach", for four months. Given that when I started that course I had racked up an average of one Welsh course per 2.5 months I should not have been too surprised to not last very long. But I was! I was learning a lot in this class and it's nice to learn with the same people for a while. And the tutor was very good. But it came to an end anyway!

Jenny wanted me to do the highest level course, "Meistroli", in addition to this one. Meistroli is the one that gets you ready for your A levels. But I was two levels down! Between Pellach and Meistroli still came Uwch. But if you try to improve your Welsh outside the classroom you can rise above your class. I had passed my GCSE in spite of only having just started Pellach; you are only expected to do it after having finished it. I may be able to wing that one too! And I was not certain of whether the workload of two courses would be a good thing.

I decided to see if I could add the Uwch class, taught on Tuesday evenings, to my Monday evening Pellach class. I figured doing A levels on Uwch may be a better idea than skipping straight to Meistroli. But then the message from Sian, our tutor, arrived. She was going to move the Pellach class to Tuesday! So that plan went out of the window. So which course to choose?

There was no choice. It turned out that I hadn't been the only one contemplating to enroll in the Uwch course. One after the other mentioned they wouldn't do the Tuesday Pellach class. So on the first class of the season, the last one to be taught on Monday, only two of us showed up. The course coordinator popped by; she asked if we were willing to leave this class and move on to Uwch. We were. And it would be good, but it was sad to leave Sian.

The next day the Uwch course started. It was good! There were five people from the Pellach course, and five others; one of these was sort of familiar as he was the brother of one of the Pellachers and the husband of another. And I knew the tutor; Elwyn is the superstar of Welsh for Adults. He is the one who designed the whole course (that is, from very start to A level), an he's so spiffing he has his own Wikipedia page. I had mainly met him through an exam-preparation-class. And he's omnipresent. And a great teacher and universally loved man.

This class was half an hour longer than the previous one, and everyone in it is keen and speaks pretty much Welsh only. It was very good! And challenging; Elwyn tries to make us understand and speak colloquial Welsh. Which means you have to not only know "the weather hasn't been great" is "dydy'r tywydd ddim wedi bod yn gret" but also you're supposed to pronounce it "'dy'r tywydd 'im 'di bod yn gret", for instance. A Welshman would only need three milliseconds for that sentence.

I got home very satisfied. But also with a mountain of course material; only on Monday had I received the second half of the material for Pellach; we'd only reached chapter 6 of 18, and the Uwch class had already reached chapter 9. So that meant I had to do 21 chapters on my own. That's almost 2 years worth of material! Time to get cracking...

 A lot to learn!

25 September 2015

Water rescue in Wales

Suddenly there was a reminder email. Oh dear! I think I missed the original one while I was on the boat or something. Luckily, it related to an activity on a day I didn't have anything specific planned. So what was the email about? A cave rescue training. It was announced to be wet. My favourite kind of fun! Whether in rescue context or not.

I tried to get to bed at a reasonable hour the day before, in spite of the CRTT. And packed a bucket full of neoprene.

When we got to Plas-y-Brenin we were asked to change into our kit, so we did. The team has some dry suits, but not enough for everyone, so I was quite happy to just wetsuit up. Soon we were practicing; the team had a floating stretcher, a float for non-floating stretchers, and an inflatable dinghy that should be good for stretcher transport! So we had people swim off, playing casualties, and the rest then trying to get to them, keep their heads out of the water, and get them into the boat. That worked really well! You get lots of water in too, so maybe we need a bailing scoop as additional kit; your casualty might get cold if they are transported in two inches of water.

Fun in the water

David plays a casualty and is seen to

He's pulled into the boat. Notice the name on the side, BTW; that's the third in a row!

The stretcher did its thing too, although the consensus was we could just as well add floats to the stretcher we already have. The separate float was not such a success. Good to know!

I've been turned into a sausage in order to test the floating stretcher. Pic by Heather.

When we were done with the watery stuff we assembled a piece of kit that seemed to have materialised out of thin air; it was a frame you can use for lowering people/stretchers/etc into holes and lifting them out again if that hole is either crumbly (with danger of dropping rocks on your casualty and rescuers) or devoid of high attachment points (such as trees). It's hard to lift out a stretcher if the rope is attached low, such as, to the tow bar of a car, which you would use if there's nothing else. Snazzy piece of kit!

The Larkin frame assembled; has it been done correctly? Time to check the user guide.

When that all was done I was very hungry, but that was OK, we were done. We seem to be doing a proper in situ training in November! Will be fun!

23 September 2015

Croesor - Rhosydd, again!

If you can be identified by only your first name, like Madonna or Elvis or such, you're very famous. If you're an underground trip and you are called by initials only, you are too. Around here there is one: known as CRTT, or the Croesor-Rhosydd Through Trip. I had done it once as Lionel had heard of it and wanted to give it a try. That was way back in 2012; I hadn't been back since moving to Wales. It was about time I gave it another go!

One of our regulars wanted to bring a climber friend of his down. And that sounded fine; the trip is sometimes underestimated and attempted by badly prepared and badly equipped people. But of all above-ground people, it would be climbers that would probably be best ones to try it. Good with ropes, strong in the arms; just what you need!

We would be six altogether. Half of us would have done it before. This time we would go from the Cwmorthin car park; whichever way you go, it's a beautiful walk. We met two German chaps who intended to do the same trip; rock climbers as well. We figured they'd go in front; for one reason, as they were rather fit and one of us wasn't, so we were slow doing the uphill walk; for another, they hadn't done it before and might be reassured by the knowledge were would be coming up behind them in case they got in trouble. But no; they let us go first and kept a respectful distance.

Walking past Cwmorthin lake with beautiful reflections

We went in. It had been a while but it looked familiar! Until we got to the first drop. From the messiest rig in the world it had been upgraded to a very tidy one with a nicely new rope. Good! (Look at the previous report to see why that was a welcome sight!) We went down without incident. And down the second pitch too. And then there was the zipline (I didn't manage to go very fast) and the wobbly bridge (last time it surely was less wobbly!). All was going well!

The first drop. Pic by Simon

We came to the Bridge of Minor Ailments (or whatever it's called; as long as it's clear it's not anywhere near the Bridge of Death) and all was well there too. We shimmied across. The traverse was a bit of a nuisance but no more than that. And then it was the Bridge of Death's turn! And that's the bottle neck.

David on the Bridge of Minor Ailments. Pic by Simon 

Briony on the traverse. Pic by Simon

There's so little left of the bridge you have to shimmy along a steel cable bolted into the ceiling. It has an extra attachment point in the middle, which complicates things; it means you have to either work with two pulleys, and somehow manage to move yourself from one to the other, or manage to move your pulley from one side of the attachment point to the other. And the problem is that in order to be able to propel yourself you have to hang really close to the cable. The closer to it you are, though, the harder the change-over in the middle is. I went for the close option; last time I struggled more with moving across the cable than with switching to the other cable. This time we had a footloop to stand in; that worked fine. I couldn't possibly do it standing on the beam!

Edwyn making the change-over look relaxed. Pic by Simon

We did it with two pulleys, so we had to keep pulling them back and forth along the rope. We also had to ferry kit around; we were wearing buoyancy aids for in case the whole structure would come out of the ceiling and plummet into the icy water, but we only had four for six people. And if you hung by your cowstails from the pulley you had nothing to secure yourself with in the middle, so then you needed two pairs. And we sent the bags on their own to make things easier. A lot of faff!

We all made it across, some with a bit more swearing than others. Time to head for the last hurdle; the chamber with the canoe! It was still there. Edwyn abseiled into it and I followed. I ended up in the very front. The rope was near the rear but Edwyn struggled to find the bit we needed to pull. Once he'd found it and give it to me (best to go front first) I turned out to have quite a talent for somehow going sideways and bumping into things. Oh well, we got there! And we found Paul back, who had just pottered around in Rhosydd a bit. He wasn't up for the through trip. We had already heard him whooping from the Bridge of Death. Now we were reunited!

Edwyn abseils down into the canoe. Pic by Simon

In the meantime, Rich (the climber) and David appeared. Last were Simon and Briony; they struggled a bit, as the rope along which you pull yourself along had snagged and snapped. They had to manage with improvised paddles, and then re-tie the rope. But then most was over! We were almost in Rhosydd. While David and I waited for Simon and Briony the rest went ahead, and put the kettle on in a nearby chamber. Time for soup! By then it was 18:20 (we had gathered for breakfast at 10AM). Time flies.

We went on. We got to the Twll Mawr, where last time we had gone out, but not this time. We would go the proper way out; through the long adit you pass when you walk up the way we had, and where we had left Paul. It was a much more efficient way, and indeed it felt more proper. When we got out we ended up in a cloud. Too bad; it had been blue sky when we got in! But while we walked down the clouds lifted and we got to see beautiful pink evening skies.

Coming out of the adit in the fog

Pink skies over Cwmorthin

By the time we finally were down and changed I was keen to go home. The plan was to go for a curry but I decided to bail out. The next day we had rescue training, so there was no rest for the wicked! It had been fun, but it had also been a 12 hour day and that was without dinner; you don't want to do that too often!

22 September 2015

Introducing throngs underground

If people say you're a mine explorer people tend to be interested. Not necessarily interested in joining; most say it wouldn't be for them, but people who think the worst place to hang out in your spare time is dark, wet, cold and dirty (and perhaps tight - most people think there is a lot of belly-crawling involve din mine exploration, which it isn't) often are quite interested in why others disagree. Sometimes, though, people think it's cool and suggest they may join one day. Most never do.

In the past 1.5 years we brought a few people underground; Paul's visiting Canadians, some mine explorers' family members, and such. My colleague Alejandro joined one night when I was abroad. But one week we'd get two guests in one go: our lab tech Jess and her newfangled husband would join. Nice! We picked a nicely accessible mine for the purpose. And then our regular Edwyn mailed he'd bring a friend. And then some chap appeared on internet, wanting to do a completely different trip but whom we convinced to first show up on a low-key trip like this. Could he bring some mates, was the question. He could.
File:Chwarel Wrysgan - geograph.org.uk - 332554.jpg
 The mill that belongs with the mine. Pic by Dewi

We gathered at the usual place. Cars everywhere! All of the announced guests showed up! Blimey. We had doubled in numbers. This had never happened before. We kitted Jess and Sean out with helmets and lights; others looked after the others (with mixed results, I'm afraid), and after some introductions and faff we set of. We'd go to Wrysgan again; the last time I'd been there we had been on our annual Victorian trip, but we'd been there several times before in order to restore a collapsed passage and thereby creating a nice through-trip. That passage, unfortunately, had re-collapsed; we wanted to go and have a look to see if we could open it once again, or whether it would just keep collapsing which would mean one wouldn't want to be in it at any time.

In a long line we set off. It takes a while to get to the highest level from which you can drop down again to the blocked passage in question, especially with a large group. When we got there we had a look; it looked rather iffy! On one side there were rocks dangling above the passage that were cracked and looked like they were holding back a great weight; on another side there was a lot of loose stuff of which it is always hard to guess how much of it there is. We might have to give up on this passage. Too bad; it would be nice to not have to go back all the way to the top level to get out.

While some of us veteran passage-diggers assessed the hole the others started to make their way up. At the top we caught up with them. We decided to get out there and walk back down via the outside of the hill.

Jess and Sean probably won't be back. They're moving to Canada soon. At least one of the others seemed keen to show up more often. Maybe we got some new blood! I hope, though, that next time it comes slightly more diluted!

20 September 2015

CELT conference

I have been induced; from here I have to make my own way through what CELT throws at me. Celt? People with torques and a funny language? Well, no, the Centre for Enhanced Learning and teaching. Slightly less glamorous but more appropriate in the context. If a person desirous of acquiring their PGCertHE has been through the three-day induction they have to complete a portfolio, and part of that portfolio consists of reflective accounts of a number of CELT workshops. They have such on a range of topics; from the practical, such as how to work the Blackboard website; to the psychological, such as how to deal with distressed students. But one day was coming up which hosted a whole range of topics: the annual CELT conference. I decided to go.

This year, they had decided to focus on three different topics, and run three parallel sessions on these topics. They were: student engagement, technology, and inspiring teaching. You could pop in and out of these sessions as you wished.

I went to two technology sessions and a student engagement one. The technology sessions provided a wealth of further ideas; one lady, for instance, presented an elaborate excel sheet she had made that helps her quickly mark a student's work and add personal feedback. It has all the standard remarks in there that make you not want to provide hand-written feedback; in my case, this sheet would certainly have "back up your statements with references" and "break up the text into sections" in it. When you're done, excel burps out a PDF version of the personalised sheet and sends it to the student. Brilliant! She was willing to send the file to anyone who wanted it; I'll be sure to email her.

Something that didn't quicken my pulse was a lady who had been experimenting with sending students reminders of upcoming lectures. You rarely get your full cohort, and well, you stand there to add something to the students' education, so one assumes there's a merit in high attendance. Do they fail to show up because they forget? I doubt it. The lady didn't have her full results in, but I think I'll let that suggestion go. This sounds like Big Brother meets the Nanny State. Bad idea! If the students don't want to come you can't make them, and if you could; those that don't want to come won't be particularly engaged. But it was interesting to hear about it.

The last session, about student engagement, was not as engaging as I had hopes; some of the presentations fell flat, which is a bit painful in a session like that. Luckily there was a lady from Psychology who had a brilliant way of guiding the freshers into the curriculum. She said many, many students came to university to study psychology with a distorted view of what to expect; they thought they'd be doing clinical psychology pretty much all the time. You could not tell them too soon they don't get much of that unless and until they specialise in that field, and that they have to get through a fair bit of statistics. Ideas of contact hours vs self study were unrealistic too. She sends everybody an interactive questionnaire that dispels all the myths, and discusses the results with all students, so also the one that couldn't be bothered with the questionnaire are brought up to speed. And she had more of these things! Leave that to the psychologists.

It had been worth sitting in lecture rooms on a sunny day for this. Was the day over after the sessions? Heck no. But read about the rest here. And once I manage to find time beside my day job, Welsh attempts and underground pursuits I can go and write up that conference for my portfolio!

17 September 2015

Go Turnbull!

Two days, two Turnbulls. Everybody will have noticed that a certain Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott and is now the new Australian prime minister. The BBC keeps stressing his sensible views on climate change and equal rights. It seems what the BBC says is a simplification, but still, the man is a breath of fresh air after Abbott, who is rather misogynist, racist, and a climate denier. So there's clearly still room for improvement but things are better than they were!

And the other Turnbull, you may ask? Well, Oliver Turnbull is Bangor University's Pro Vice-Chancellor, with special responsibility for teaching and learning. So if one starts to do one's PGCertHE, one is likely to run into him. One may do that at many other occasions, but if you're in the School of Ocean Sciences and thus residing on Anglesey you are  less likely to engage in events on the main campus (where pretty much everything except Ocean Science takes place) than most. You have to add an hour to all events going on there to account for travel time!

During the PGCertHE induction we were repeatedly reminded of the upcoming CELT conference (CELT being Centre for Enhancement of Learning and teaching). It sounded like a useful follow-up so I registered. And Oliver Turnbull would be the first and the last to talk. Did I expect an awful lot of that? No, not really. Maybe it was my several years at Plymouth University that had made me prejudiced against the higher echelons of university management. Academia is like the rest of society; once you get to the top, you are likely to lose yourself in ill-advised vanity projects and giving yourself massive pay increases. But this chap already made a good impression on me when, upon spotting me in the crowd, approached me as he said he didn't recognise my face and he figured I was new staff. A pro vice-chancellor who actually knows the people on the ground! That's good. But then the man took the stage and gave a speech and it got a lot better.

You could tell this chap actually cared about the university. And he stopped himself on several occasions when his talk threatened to turn into a rant on Tory governments who, well, lose themselves in ill-advised vanity projects and do massive damage to universities. He seemed a thoroughly decent guy!

The day was topped off with a dinner and a ceilidh. I like ceilidhs! I went. Due to the usual Anglesey thing I didn't go back to the office or back home between conference and dinner; I just popped into the library to look for a book I needed, and did some sitting in the sun and practicing Welsh. Everybody else, though, turned out to have gone home and put on some glamorous outfit. Deary me! I felt very underdressed. But it was nice; I ended up at a table with an SOS colleague and her bloke, and one lady from Linguistics and one from Psychology. Nice and interesting people! And the food was good and the room glamorous. And then there were some more Oliver Turnbull speeches, honouring and thanking all sorts of people who had done remarkable things in the field of teaching and learning. It even involved him scampering across the hall to hug a lady who was not well and would have struggled to come onto the stage. He cares!


And then the ceilidh unfurled. I had fun! And as if I haven't sung Turnbull praise enough already the man also stands his dancing ground. I came to learn useful things about teaching but I ended up feeling better about humanity. A good day!

16 September 2015

Morning walk

I entered the weekend in a more urban way than I normally do. My marvellous office mate Stella had her birthday on Friday, so after work a throng of her friends (including me) went to the pub, a restaurant, and then the pub again. I hadn't been in a pub for such a long time in ages! I made sure not to hurry my drinks. I lasted until midnight.

The next day I did my standard morning run, but then chores waited. I wanted to wash my hair, for instance. And tidy my house, as I would have guests. And these guests, which were Jaco and Marjan again (this is now a nice and fairly well-established tradition) required shopping and cooking as well. So the Saturday wasn't too outdoorsey either! So by the time Sunday hit I felt like a walk. And over breakfast I decided on a nice little valley behind Bethesda to explore.

I drove to said village, parked up (nicely close to the wall, so as not to take up too much space) and started. Within minutes I was in an amazing landscape. Hurrah for Wales! And after some scampering through woodland, bracken, and agricultural land (with very handsome livestock) I ended up in the empty valley I had aimed for: Cwm Pen-Llafar.

Handsome rams

Scenic country road

It was one of those valleys with nothing in. I saw two horses, a fair number of sheep, some sheep folds, and some ruined structures, such as houses and a dam. That was it! It was lovely. I walked all the way to the cirque at the end, called Cwmglas Mawr, where I had a coffee. Then I headed back. I came across one other walking lady on the way. Busy!

After some 3.5 hours I was back at my car. A nice stroll that covers an entire valley, but not your entire day! A small drawback was that I was reminded of that you shouldn't park so close to a wall you choose to get out on the passenger side if your central locking doesn't work. The only door you can open with the key is the one on the driver's side... oh well. I managed to get in. Back home, back to chores! And with renewed appreciation for the small and modest, but still very worthwhile walks!

Cwm Pen-Llafar

 The old dam in Cwm Pen-Llafar

 Nothing in the valley other than a pile of horse poo

 The ragged top end of Cwmglas Mawr

 Handsome sheep with a talent for posing

15 September 2015

Finish the underground job

Two weeks ago we left the machine shaft of Catherine and Jane mine to a later day, as a different shaft (or rather, a winze) had taken up all our time. So this week we went back! We had a surprise; Simon had said he wouldn't come, but to our surprise we saw his distinctive car approach. What was that! It turned out he could not bear stay in the office the entire evening, when he knew it was forecast to be the last lovely evening. He would walk to the entrance with us, and then go back to continue his work... oh dear.

There had been a nice engine house there. Pic by Chris

We walked to the same spot as last week, but then a bit further. David vanished into some undergrowth. Struggling through brambles brought me to the edge he had dropped off. Indeed, an inclined shaft! I was soon down too, but I couldn't resist a level going off into the side only a few meters down.

The inclined shaft. Pic by David

The level soon became crawl-height. The crawl ended in some dodgy stoping with loose stuff everywhere. I nosed around a bit, and checked everything but the way down. That just looked very iffy!

Don had gone into the same level but at the other side of the shaft, so when a rope was free I hopped over to the other side. More crawling! Don had already found a way out, and was now exploring some side tunnel. I went on; checked that the level indeed went out, and then tried to climb some stoping that went off perpendicularly. All good fun! And more people arrived. We saw that where Don had gone was another place full of nasty loose deads. We helped him get back safely, and went back to the shaft, to explore the next level down.

When I got there the pumping rods everyone had been going on about immediately flaunted their loveliness. Nice! With little support wheels! And David appeared, mentioning Sinker wanted to do a crawl with me. I'm always up for a nice crawl. We expected the crawl to come out where we'd been two weeks before. Lo and behold, it did! Sinker decided he would go out that way. I went back to go back up, bringing his bag.

Mick admiring one of the support wheels of the pump rods

It was Sinker's birthday, so we decided to leave the (very limited) remainder of the mine to some other day, and go out. And so we did! Upon having come out we struggled a bit getting one of the ropes out, but David's superior strength sorted that out. This left us free to go back to the cars, and back to cake-with-a-dragon-on in Sinker's honour. A successful night! And back to slate next week!

14 September 2015

From sea to mountain

Everyone comes to North Wales! It's so beautiful. Not only caving clubs come west. This time, it was a lady I knew from very un-mountainous environs that would come visit. It was Elke, who had been on the 2014 cruise. She had worked the core scanner, and I had developed the habit of popping in every day just before her shift (if work allowed, of course) to catch up. That was very nice! And it was very nice to see her again on my home turf!

She stayed in Llandudno, which meant the north-eastern part of Snowdonia was the most logical place to go. That was also the area where I had done my biggest training run, so I had seen how beautiful it was, and I had intended to one day come back and enjoy that area in a slightly more relaxed way.The time was now!

The weather forecast wasn't all that good, but to my surprise I reached Llandudno in sunshine. And there was Elke! It was good to see her again. We drove to a nicely remote parking lot and set off. From that parking lot you could see the broken reservoir dam I had mentioned before. We went the other way, though, as that was new for both of us.

Reunited with Elke

 A view on the broken reservoir dam from somewhat higher on the hill

The valley we headed into, Pant y Griafolen, was very beautiful too. There wasn't much in it, other than two small reservoirs and a cabin. And some sheep! And a mill of sorts. There was a small quarry (Melynllyn Hone quarry) at the top end of the valley, and the path had clearly been a tramway. We found a ruined building with a waterwheel pit. The wheel itself was gone (maybe it had been wood) but the axle was still there!

The mill

When we reached the end of the valley we could either go the same way back, or return along the other side of the valley. The latter sounded better, as we'd see new terrain! So we agreed. Unfortunately, we soon found out the other side of the valley was very swampy. Oh dear! 

Water flowing into Dulyn reservoir

It took a while to slosh back to where we could cross the river. I felt a bit bad as Elke's socks, shoes and trousers were soaking. My shoes weren't so bad. But once we were on solid ground again all was forgiven. The flowering heather and sunshine made up for any slosh.

When we got back to the cars Elke had to travel on to Aberystwyth. I had to go back to my chores. It had been a great half day! Come back again Elke!

13 September 2015

Cleaning the steps

Once in a while, our Paul brings some Canadian along underground. How this tradition commenced, you may ask? I have no idea. But after bringing an archaeologist along in June the previous year, he now showed up with an engineer. Always nice to show people around that are new to the area! So we decided to take him down our, well, default mine. It's a beauty and caters for all. And when we we being inclusive anyway, Sinker decided to bring his eldest son along. And while we would be at it, we would clean up a staircase. These old stair get clogged up with mud over time, and that's not good. For the pleasure and safety of both ourselves and any other visitors we would attack the caked-on dirt with spades, trowels, and water. And then do a bit of a round trip!

The impeccable steps (Pic by David)

And so we did. We first spent some time on the stairs, which are now spic and span again. Then we did a nice scamper. The two new gentlemen were suitably impressed with the beauty of the mine. And they were quite happy with the challenges it brings (except the Canadian choosing a detour over a high ladder). The Canadian lives a bit far away to join more often, but who knows, maybe we get Sinker Junior along a bit more often now!

11 September 2015

What can't be undone can be turned into art

I don't have an apron. If I cook I just hope for the best. I generally get away with it! If I do some DIY I don't tend to protect myself, my clothes or my house either (except my eyes!). My fingers are full of small, avoidable scars. My bedside table has a saw cut in it. It doesn't matter too much.

When I was making knee pads, did I take precautions? Of course not. I leaked some silicone sealant on my trousers. You can even see the stain on the pic in which I model the finished product. More than a year later, that stain is still there. I don't think it's going anywhere! So I decided to distract attention away from it. I figured I could just embroider something over the top. So one Sunday afternoon, with the radio providing entertainment, I set to work. I freehanded (if that is a word) a nice image over the stain. Do I have to say what image? No, I didn't think so. But it's not just any species of foraminifera; it's a species I like, although I have to admit I didn't get all the diagnostic criteria in the picture. I'm happy with it! But it's a bit lonely.

Another quiet moment presented itself, and I gave the critter some friends. Three will do for now! But who knows, maybe I'll get carried away later on, and turn my trousers into a veritable taxonomy book...

10 September 2015

Teaching qualifications

Teaching is over. I spent a semester pretty much teaching full time, and spent the next semester combining teaching and research. This year I have no teaching obligations. So, full-time research now? Eh, no!

I like teaching. I think I may even be good at it. But not good enough. And I would like to do more of it, in some next job. So the reasonable thing to do is to get my qualifications. It's not an unusual thing to do in academia; teach first, ask questions later! It's not quite how it should be but it's how it goes. In Norway I was working for a research institute, in Plymouth they didn't allow non-lecturers to get their teaching qualifications (thereby actually forcing people to teach first and get qualified later), in York I didn't stay long enough and now I am in Bangor, finally getting to it. I had a week between my holidays and the start of the program leading to the Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCertHE) which is what every lecturer in the UK needs to get.

In order to complete the program I need to teach. The idea is that you teach, then think about your teaching (aided by lots of workshops offered by the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching), write a report about it with how you could improve, improve it, and then get your certificate. That's simplified but you get the idea.

It started with a three day induction. This is meant to already give you lots of food for thought, but also to familiarise you with the practical aspects of the program. It was fun! We were only a small group (about ten) and they threw a lot of information at us. They really managed to get us thinking, and also just gave us lots of practical tips. The last day they made us present, both just a taster of our teaching style, and a proposal for an improvement. Very useful. And now I'm on my own. Well, not really; I have two designated advisors, but the group has now disbanded. So I got me some books for inspiration, and have started on the coursework. Stay tuned!

09 September 2015

Back underground

The advantage of coming back from holiday on a Wednesday is you get to see your underground friends very soon after you come back. If you are a Thursdaynighter, that is. And I am! We would even do a mine I hadn't been to. And one with rope work! And a filthy one too. Couldn't be better.

The mine in question had many separate parts; with Edwyn I first scampered up the hill to have a sneaky look in some of the bits we wouldn't explore today, but which we hadn't seen yet (the others had). That was nice! By the time we got to the others they had rigged the pitch, and I went first. It was a nice drop! I scampered around at the bottom a bit; I was in a bit of an unusual mood, just back from holiday. I was quite happy just sitting on a rock and chatting with the others, rather than obsessively exploring every cold, wet, grotty level there was. And after a while we went back up. By the time we were all back we discussed if we should do part 2 of the intended trip; I figured it would get too late. This time the others agreed!

As it hadn't gone excessively late we made it to a pub. It was nice to catch up a bit! And in two weeks' time we will do part 2. I like it that way!

Going down... (pic by Edwyn)

 ...and coming back up (pic by Edwyn)

08 September 2015

Some more random pics of Greenland

Greenland was too beautiful to not add a few pics more! I didn't want to drown the narrative posts in photos so I just dedicate a separate post to images alone. Enjoy!