29 December 2016

Rigging for youngsters

The day had come we did not go to our dig on Thursday night. Mick had a different plan: he wanted to rig a small mine with an SRT pitch and some handlines, so he cold take Zen, his girlfriend's son's ex-girlfriend (it's complicated!) and her (new) boyfriend there in the new year. She had done a fair amount of SRT stuff, but pretty much always only down. It was time for her to practice prussicking up! And Mick had decided that Hafod Uchaf was the right place for it. We'd found that mine two years previous, and had recognised its potential for a small round trip. I would have bailed out if something would be going on in Miles' and my dig, but Miles was otherwise engaged, so that will have to wait for the new year.

There were only four of us. We wallked the long way to the mine (it's very small and it was dark, we wandered a bit) and hqad a look at where to put the pitch. There were two options: along a steep slab, or straight down. David tried the slab frst, but it wasn't ideal. Then we went for a compromise; first a meter down the slab and then down a vertical passage. We rigged it and I tried it. No nasty rubbing points! Then it was time to put a handline down the side. You can just scramble down to the bottom of the pitch, and back up, but maybe that could be a bit newbiefied as well. The last thing we needed to do was install a bolt for another small pitch further in. That created a ready-rigged round trip! And that meant we were done. Time to wander back to the cars! This would be my last underground trip of the year. But the new year will hardly have started before I expect to be back right there, as Zen's personal SRT instructor!

26 December 2016

Back to sampling

The sampling for radiocarbon dating should have been done months ago, but science rarely works like that. When I got the 185 hours of work from Sheffield, my colleague Tom saw opportunities.  He still had a wish list of dates. So instead of writing manuscripts, I was sent back to the lab. For some of his wish list I need to go to Edinburgh, but some of it could be sorted with the slab samples and sediment cores we still had in Bangor, so I went back to the cold store. A bit strange to get back all that way, but well, more samples is better! And then in the new year I will go to Edinburgh for the really final batch. We'll have to make do with what we have then! 

 A core that has been sampled before

A funny thing I found in my sample (just put this up because it looks good)

The clump of funny things the thing above is a part of

24 December 2016

Shoes your own size

In September I tried to break a habit I've had some 15 years. I've had foot problems since I can remember, and at some point in my twenties I settled for dealing with that by using orthopaedic soles. I have worn these ever since. But after my feet coped with forefoot running, I decided to see if I could do without the soles, if I would just walk in a different way. I didn't make a very big effort though; this is important to me, but there are many things important to me, and well, having feet problems for 40 years and 9 months or 40 years and 10 or 11 months doesn't matter very much.

But then I forgot my insoles on a Thursday night, without problems. The next day I went to work without them. Then I did a Sunday mine session without them, on purpose. And stayed sole-free the rest of the day. And went to work without them the next day. It seems that I'm on to something! This is great.

I seem to be only getting better with age. I am faster and stronger than before, and also more mentally strong. And now I might even be on the way of having good feet! That would be great.

When I started to do forefoot running I saw a podologist for a new pair of orthopaedic soles. I tried this one, hoping he could make some that were smaller than the comfortable but bulky ones my old schoemaker in the Netherlands makes. He was quite against forefootr running; he said I had enough foot problems already, and thought that using the problematic part of my foot to take all the strain would make things worse. That was clearly not true! And I can't prove it was the running technique that made the change, but well, I'm certainly not stopping. I've been wearing shoes my own size for days now! I could get used to this!

Insole-free shoes!

22 December 2016

Restore the dig

One of our digs has a bit of a weak spot. There is one interval of only a meter or so which has a lot of loose rock pendant above it. And once in a while, some of that loose stuff comes down. We have started putting scaffolding in to keep it in place, but it's a lot of scaffing to do, and you can't get it done in one go. And if you need more than one go, you might find you have to dig out all your scaffolding before you can go on again. A lot of work!

A small look on Thursday had revealed this had again happened. On Sunday, David and Edwyn and me would tackle that issue. The day started a bit disconcerting: we had agreed David would be at my place at 8AM, and he is always very punctual so I made sure I was ready a few minutes before then. No David. Still none at 8:10. I phoned his house. No answer. I informed Edwyn we'd be late. I was starting to worry; had he had a heart attack on the way or something? I phoned again at 8:25. There was an answer: it was David! He had just misremembered the time; he planned to be at mine at 9AM. Oh dear.

A bit late we approached the Lakeside Cafe, when we saw some familiar silhouettes. We knew Miles would be taking some relatives undergroud that day; they had picked the same time as us. That was nice! We all headed for a heavy breakfast and then went on our way. I took the opportunity as well to go in in wellies my own size; I decided to go insole-free, on purpose, this time, as doing that by accident the last time had worked so well.

We all walked up (Edwyn twice as he had forgot his knee pads) and got in. We the diggers took some scaffolding from the pile and headed for the dig.

The lugging started. We took turns. There was a lot of stuff there! We did some solid shifts. The hours passed and we only slowly got closer to clearing it all. I had a social engagement afterwards so I didn't want to stay there too long, but I also quite liked to end on a high note. When I told David we had to get out soonish he wanted to get rid of a few more loads, and I was OK with that. In the end we had made a big hole in the rubble. It still didn't look very inviting, but at least there was a passage again.

Dirty and damp we went back out. It was still daylight! And my feet were still fine. Would this be the dawning of a new era? I hope so! And let's hope as well that the passage will still be a passage the next time we'd go there. Now it was time to rush home, have a shower, rush to Gerlan for the social, looking quite unlike I'd been lying in a drippy mine all day!

20 December 2016


It arrived! The contract for my upcoming job fell on the doormat one hazy Saturday. Now they can't change their mind anymore! It feels good to have that in print.

 I was glad to see that stamp!

 Now it's official!

It will be a hectic job; I start lecturing the first hour of the first day of the new contract. And immediately in the first month I have two modules, one of which I have never taught before. Best get the Sheffield work out of the way and get some time to at least assess how much preparation is needed! I'll try to do as much as possible actually within the contract, but some prep in my own time is probably unavoidable.

Anyway. In a bit over a month I will be a university lecturer. Can I now claim to be part of the sneering leftwing elite?

19 December 2016

On one's own feet in the dig

This Thursday I would be back in Miles' and my dig, the first time in a fair while! I didn't know how I would find the place; by the time I would get there Miles would have been there for a while. All the others would go on a calm walk through Cwmorthin; David and Rich had two newbie guests each, so they would just show them around. I met David's guests, and changed into my kit. Not all my kit; I noticed I had forgot my insoles. Oh dear! The last time that happened it was quite painful. I hope this time wouldn't be so bad! But I had done some insole-free trials that had gone well, so there was hope.

I went ahead; no need to wait for the others, who would go elsewhere. It was nice to walk up with only a pipe cutter as extra luggage! And my feet felt OK. Soon I was walking through a faint cloud of gunpowder smoke. Stuff was happening in there!

I went through the collapse and greeted Miles. He had just reached a bit of a dead end in his work; the drill bit was stuck in the drill so he could only drill one size hole, and one size does not fit all. We had a small break I had not deserved but he had. Then we went in! Miles had done some work at the far end of the dig. It looked great; he had managed to either get rid of, or wriggle loose, some of the rocks that were in the way. Time to clean up!

I lugged two really big rocks out, and then I removed all the loose stuff. In Dig 2 we do that low-tech; just shove the rubble in the right direction with hands or feet. No buckets. It works! After a few rounds pretty much everything that could safely be removed was removed. Now we could have a good look! The space we had made was so big we could make a plan of progress together, looking onto the space that now needed its big rocks supported, its smaller rocks kept in place and then its exit into whatever was behind it made bigger. But that needed a drill with a different bit. Not tonight!

We packed up. Miles left, and I went to the other dig to get some short bits of scaff that were there. We would be needing them for the supporting work we hoped to start the next week! Then I went back to see if I could do some work on the other dig; there were tasks there that required no kit. unfortunately, I came to where our narrow access tunnel reaches what we call "the void"; or rather, where it used to do that. Rock had come down and blocked the passage! Oh dear. That was the second or third time it had done that. We will have to dig it out again! At some point, the mine will run out of loose stuff it can throw at it. We will persevere!

I removed two loads of rock from the ex-passage, but then it was time to go and meet the others; we had agreed on a meeting time at the exit. I made my way back and found only David and Paul, with whom I shared a car; the others had all left. I reported back and then we went out. We were impressed by how pretty the valley looked in the moonlight, and David tried to capture that beauty on film. The pics looked like they were made in daylight (see below) but it was magic there and then! And still my feet were alright. Another nice end to a good night!

 The valley by night; pics by David

17 December 2016

Back into climbing

I didn't climb in November. There was a bit too much I still wanted to do before my contract would run out so I had to ditch something. Climbing is the obvious thing to ditch; it is not as addictive as going underground, as not as needed as running to keep fit (I keep doing my pull-ups). But when December hit, and the first week with all the teaching stuff was over, I went back.

I started by belaying Simon. Then I suddenly noticed I wasn't wearing my washer. Oh dear! But in the times since I had been scrupulously wearing it, the lump in my hand had not only grown, but it had also become less sensitive. So maybe I could put weight on it now? I did not have much choice; I had to try. So I did! I tried a first route, and nothing happened. My hand held!

Then Simon wanted to try a route on an overhang. It had rather large juggy hand holds. That tends to be the worst; when you need to have a lot of your weight on the grips due to it being overhanging, and you have to hang there stationary for a while sometimes in order to clip in. It was a bit on the edge, but I tried it. It went well too! Although I sometimes made sure I clipped in with left. The route didn't always facilitate that very much but one can improvise.

I did not want to do more of those overhangs, so we went to the 6a+ route I had failed on the previous time. And to my surprise, I did it! I still didn't lead it. Maybe next time. But doing it on top rope in 10 attempts, to on top rope in 1 attempt; that's progress! I haven't lost my mojo. Good!

After the oragne route I also tried to again lead the 6c route I think is mislabelled. I had to cheat a bit in the middle! Oh well. One's arms get tired. But it was good to be back at the wall, good to see I still climb at the same level, and good to see my hand is getting more able to cope with hard work again!

15 December 2016

Raid the students' samples

We had two students doing a dissertation on cores from our project. One had a core from the Irish Sea; there aren't very many forams in there. The other one had a core from the Minch (offshore Western Scotland, between the mainland and the outer Hebrides); that one was full of forams. And he'd done assemblage studies with them. Once the specimens, identified to species level, have been counted then you might want to keep them so you can check afterwards if you agree with the taxonomy, but otherwise there's not much you can do with them. I thought I might as well raid his samples for the dominant species; that's a big, unmistakable critter, so I am sure I would remain confident in their identification. I could then have these radiocarbon dated; there suddenly was time, now I had the short extra contract...

There was one problem though; when we pick forams we tend to put them in microslides; little cardboard thingies, and we glue them into position. You want them to neatly line up, and not all lie on top of each other in the corner. And the glue we use contains carbon. Shit! You can try to rinse it off as it is water soluble, but how can you tell if you got it all off? So these forams were out.

His samples were so rich, though, that I was certain it wouldn't be an awfully big job to pick some unglued ones out of the sieved residue. He had done the tedious work of sieving and drying and packing; I could just raid his prepared samples! And I'm doing just that! This will be a very well-dated core...

Nonionellina labradorica

13 December 2016

Try not to teach

No, this is not a new REM record. It's my life at the moment. I am now a casual worker for Sheffield university, and not connected to Bangor and its teaching. I made sure I finished marking the students' assignments within my contract; I then gave the scripts to James. I perhaps could have done that earlier as I mark online, but sometimes the digital version is a bit mangled and then it can be good to have the hardcopies.

James marks hardcopies. He noticed there were four students who had submitted a hardcopy, but not a digital version. I had not marked these! And of course, the marks have to be uploaded and released and attention needs to be drawn to them and whatnot. James is still not very comfortable in the online teaching environment. I sorted out the finalising of the online marking, the release of the grades, liaising with the students who had not uploaded anything, and, of course, the marking of the four more scripts I had missed. And then I took one afternoon off for my PGCertHE. 

Then there was a meeting about the future of the "physical" programmes we offer; a large part of that meeting would be what to do with James' departure. That matters for my future! Then there was a meeting on the PGCertHE. And there were timetabling issues; I was scheduled to give  a lecture in January, while I don't start the job until February, so something had to be swapped. That had to be organised too! And the exam for that module had to be updated. And then there were student presentations within the Palaeoceanography module; James has to mark them but he needs a second person. Only Paul and me are in that line of work. Neither of us are paid for that sort of stuff, but well, one likes to help out one's cherished colleagues, and it's actually a very interesting part of the module. The students might not be as keen as I am, but I think it's the best item of teaching I have seen. And I mean that in the sense of: one gets an awful lot of insight from them, but only if one puts the effort in. So how good the students find it is another matter. Anyway; Paul and I split the job in two equal halves so that was another day pretty much down the drain, financially.

By the end of the week I had managed to only put in 23 hours of paid work. I think I overdid it a bit on the teaching-related things! I want to get these Sheffield hours out of the way at a reasonable pace so I am left with some time for myself (read: for more work on my PGCertHE) before we hit February. I hope next week will be better!

12 December 2016

Too much new terrain

We had pushed into quite a lot of new terrain in one of our digs recently, but we knew that with a modest effort we could push further. So we set out to do just that!

First things first, though; Miles would be in the other dig, and he had done some exciting stuff there. I figured I would be needed in the other dig, as the way on required someone to slither down a narrow and unstable passage, and that job has my name all over it, but I wanted to see what he had been up to first. When we got to the parking lot, armed with scaffolding boards (these are heavy) and scaff clamps, I decided to go ahead. David and I had arrived early, and by the time the others appeared I was ready to go. I grabbed a board and the key, and set off.

I found Miles in our dig. He had been in there for a while! And he had exciting news: we could see further ahead now than before, since he'd done some heavy blasting. But more blasting was needed; I could look into a hole but not go through it. And the rocks were too big to remove! That was for another day though, as Miles was bringing his drill home for repair.

We had a cup of tea and a pork pie and then Miles left. He had important stuff to do early the next morning. That had me join the others in the other dig. I found Phil and David supporting the roof of the chamber that so far had been our final destination. I started digging the exit. In minutes I had made it big enough! I rolled our drum with emergency supplies through and slithered after it.

The passage I ended up in still had an atrocious ceiling. But it went! I walked on to another collapse. I thought I might be able to squeeze past it; there seemed to be a gap, which could easily be made bigger by pulling down some big rocks. I didn't yet want to do that though; the others would hear the sounds and not know if that was good or bad news. I went back to inform the others.

I went back in with Phil. He made the passage a bit wider still while I tackled the gap in the next collapse. I removed the nuisance rocks, and it went! I tried to take some pics, missing my normal (and very bright) light, which was away for maintenance. Phil came through too. I had a look in the next level behind the collapse. That went too! Still with a very bad ceiling. But Phil had to leave early, so we went back to tell the others.

 As the roof has crumbled everywhere we did not find many artefacts; these would be covered by the rubble. The only man-made thing other than the spaces themselves we found was this nicely rusty chain.

Phil left, and would send David in. He is in a way the master of the dig, together with Don who was not with us due to  his still recent hernia operation, and he should see all this. While he was on his way I headed into the chamber, this time with my torch with me; that's quite bright so I finally got a bit of a look. But I went back to welcome David.

We went on; he fit through the hole in the collapse too. We went into the chamber I had not yet entered; we saw no exits, but maybe they were buried below rubble. There still was plenty of that! Then we went on. We stuck our head into another rat hole further on, and David had a rummage in the rat hole that would probably be our way on. But we didn't want to go any further; the entire way the ceiling was dodgy as anything, and the more of that you have behind you, the bigger the chance a large chunk will come down and block your way out. We needed to do a bit more securing before we would go any further!

 David having a look ahead. The ceiling needs some attention.

We went back. Before we went up and out David also had a look in Miles' dig, and was duly impressed. Then we went out! By exception we would not be back that weekend; Phil was travelling, David had car things to do, and I was actually quite in need of a calm weekend with some chores and some catching up on stuff such as my PGCertHE. But we'll be back! It is still too exciting for words...

10 December 2016

Looking for old forams

Whoever reads this is simultaneously equilibrating their radiocarbon content with that of the atmosphere. The atmosphere gets continuously replenished by the Sun, so so do you, reader. Upon death one stops breathing, and thus equilibrating, and that's why radiocarbon dating works. But if you are lying around, still in contact with the atmosphere, then even while not breathing there is a chance you incorporate some radiocarbon. And that holds for foraminifera too.

For our project, we date a lot of forams. Most of these are between 15.000 and 27.000 years old, but we have some older ones. These would have lost most of their radiocarbon in the meantime. With a 15.000 year old foram the influence of potential later-acquired radiocarbon is negligible, but with, say, a 44.000 year old foram it may not be. And we have quite a few of these too! And that's the reason I drove to Keyworth some time ago, and got me some samples from the BGS. We knew they would be so old they would have lost all their own radiocarbon; if they have any now, they must have acquired it later. And as these forams will have had a history comparable to the ones we dated, these forams might help us fine-tune our old dates. We might be able to correct for past-death radiocarbon with these. So now, on my short contract, my first aim is prying forams out of these samples. That won't last 185 hours but it's on top of my to do list! And there are forams in there, which is a relief. We couldn't know for sure until we looked!

Some of the forams that will help us with our dates

09 December 2016

More excitement in the dig

We knew our dig went, but we had some serious scaffolding to do. So we came back on a Sunday. Several people either pulled out or said they weren't sure they could make it; I travelled up with David and hoped for the best. We were early, and wandered a bit along the reservoir before ordering breakfast in the cafe. Soon Phil and Mick arrived; the former fighting fit, the latter not so much; he would go home after breakfast. Edwyn texted he couldn't make it. That made three!

We took some scaffolding from Miles' pile and went to the pitch. The men had one long pole while I had two shorter ones; I did struggle with that. But when Phil had dumped his he came back to take one off my hands. Nice! When we got down we found the bag one of the men had forgot there the previous day. I had been warned it contained perishable foodstuffs; I was advised to eat them today, so I carried it through.

We figured we needed two long ones for the entrance into the chamber; I started taking one through and manoeuvring it through the opening. Then David appeared who tried to make the opening a bit bigger. It's fine for me, but that doesn't mean it's fine for all! After that Phil appeared with the next one; we put that in position together. Then the difficult task of putting cross-bars in waited; we first measured how long they had to be. We had to cut them to size in the other chamber and lug them through.

Fixing the cross-bars was a challenge; putting the connectors on on the near side was fine, but for the far side I had to pretty much hover over a gaping hole, somehow bracing myself with my feet on the crumbling wall, while wrestling with uncollaborative connectors and trying not to dislodge anything onto Phil's head. But we managed! I then put some short bit in at the top, to stop stuff from sliding down and either hitting us on the head or blocking our exit. That felt good!

When that was done I went for a little scamper. I knew the chamber went up a fair bit but hadn't been. Maybe my timing was bad as my light was dying; I had given my normal light to the Yorkshire lot for maintenance, and was wearing my spare. That one doesn't manage long with a set of batteries! But I clambered up; massive chunks of ceiling had come down. I went all the way until I could vaguely make out the back wall. My dim light was a bit of a nuisance now! And my torch was in my bag, in the previous passage.

I came back and saw the men had added to our marvellous structure. I thought I'd go and have a tentative start at digging out the exit while the men removed rocks from high up that still could slide down into our exit. The passage was full of rubble but I made good progress, even though clearing a passage from the top is a bit tiresome. And once you were in there with your head and shoulders you didn't have a lot of room left to throw things behind you.

In the meantime time went close to our curfew. We mucked the exit out a bit bit more, and the men made plans for supporting the roof a bit, and making a safe passage, as the ceiling really isn't good in that chamber. But then we had to go! We crawled back to the start of the dig, had a cup of tea, and went out. It was sunny outside!

David and Phil having a little rest in the chamber

We reported back on the forum. Would we be back on Thursday? To me nothing else would make sense, but some people were getting a bit tired of the dig. But these never came up with valid alternatives, so we'd see! This project was very exciting; we might be able to get in to the passage with one more session. And Miles' dig hadn't received much attention lately. That needed to change too!

07 December 2016

Visit of the Yorkshire bunch

The PCG has just been; time for the YCC to visit! But to be more precise, it's not just the YCC, but also the NYMCC and the CMHS. Either way; the people I had been underground with during my year in York were coming up, and I was looking forward to it. I had offered some inspiration for trips as I now know of some more obscure venues these people far away probably don't. But my input would not be used!

I got to the hut on Saturday morning. I was greeted outside by Chris and Matt; the latter then invited me in for a cup of tea. The hut was full of more old friends, but also a fair amount of people I had not met before. It was filled to the brim!

The decision was made we would just go to good old Cwm. With this many people, they needed a big venue. Cwm fits the bill! And the men were interested in seeing our digs. With the YCC (and NYMCC and CMHS) I had done almost all my past digging. It had started, of course, with the likes of Lionel and Rick, but these were small projects, on which we only spent the occasional day. With the Yorkshire bunch we dug every week!

There was more faffing and tea, as there tends to be with this lot, and then we piled into some vehicles and drove to Tanygrisiau. I had never driven from that direction but all went well. I popped by Mick to get the key and then we could change and walk up.

We went in and headed for the Lost World. It took a while to get everybody down the pitch! Then I fist showed them the dig of Miles and me. Some people came out a bit pale. A death trap, they said! Such lack of appreciation.

When all who wanted to see it had seen it we went to the other dig; I knew this would be much more up the Yorkshire street. That dig is supported by scaffolding, and that's the Yorkshire way. They were impressed, this time! I had to stop one lady from coming through (it's not sufficiently secured yet) but not all were keen on the belly-crawl in. Then they had a look around, and we went back up.

From there we would do "the round trip", but not everybody understands that in the same way. Matt had an idea and I just went along with it. I still don't know my way around properly, but if I keep wandering I always end up somewhere I recognise rather soon. He sent us down the old vein incline, back up the steps (this is where I lost his concept of "round trip"), past the white waterfall, down 8 East, and over the hurdles. There I took the opportunity to go right instead of left; I never had! Very nice. I also grabbed the opportunity to have a chat in Welsh with one of the ladies I had not met before, who turned out to be from Bala. Nice! Later we went to the compressor chamber, and from there we would go a bit deeper in.

Pic in Cwm by Gary, with the lady from Bala in the foreground

I thought we might go down the bat cave. Some didn't like that! There is another way down; four went down right there, and the rest would go on, heading for ladders down. When I was down I went to the bottom of the ladders to see if I could catch them, but there was no sign of anyone. Nor on top! Nor in the main level. Oh dear. We decided to explore a bit. After a while we would go back to the compressor chamber; that would be a logical place to reconvene. But they would surely explore a bit first too, and we'd be bored going there directly.

I showed the men (I only had three men with me) some terrain we had explored about a year ago. We had not left any ropes in place, and we had none with us, so we could only get as far as we had ourselves the first time around. Oh well! Time to go back to the compressor chamber. But along the way we found a note. By the others! They had stopped waiting for us exactly four minutes ago. They would continue the round trip! But I'm not quite sure what they mean by that. I thought we'd just do something logical. We set off along Oakley floor DE, and came to what used to be the sump. I knew Miles had doen some serious restructuring there! I hadn't seen it like this. It was nice, you could just move up to Floor D without hassle and without getting wet. We were soon back at the old vein incline, and then the first chamber. We had got there first! The others might have taken a detour along Cwmorthing floor DE; that is a likely interpretation of the concept "round trip". We knew they intended to come up either on the back vein incline or the stairway. And indeed, we saw lights on the incline! Soon we were reunited.

 Writing in the guest book; pic by Gary

All together again, Matt remembered he wanted to do the Catwalk so we did. At the end we saw a Go Below group do the free-fall machine. Then it was time to get out! We walked down, changed, and got back to the hut. Time for another cup of tea! But the Yorshire folk would head for a curry, and I didn't want to, as that would make it a long day, and we had our dig again the next day. Starting early!

It was sad to say goodbye. I don't know if I'll still be there when they come back next! But I hope I will. But the next day they would do a mine they would most easily find themselves, and I wanted to move on with the dig. Yes I am addicted. So I gave and received a lot of nice Yorkshire hugs and then we all went our separate ways. See you again people!

05 December 2016

Five weeks? Five months!

When James resigned, it was clear he would leave some of his teaching. It needed to be done; it's the middle of the academic year! I had taught most of his teaching load before, and I was around; it sounded like that job had my name on it. I had already discussed the matter with the Head of School before James had left. He knew I was interested! And you're not likely to find someone else who is both willing to do it, and equally capable. I mean, it would be a five month job. Who would move to Wales for that? I'm already here!

The university seemed to agree. On November the first, I got an email from the Head of School, asking if I would be interested in a temporary lecturing job, taking over from James. I certainly would! But then nothing happened for quite a while.

With the end of my contract firmly in sight I did finally get the confirmation I would at least have a job until any contract replacing James would commence; on the 29th I heard from Sheffield. I am now working for a Yorkshire university again! Trip down memory lane.

Then, on the 30th, I suddenly got an email saying the teahcing job was sorted. I didn't even have to apply. There is this thing called the "re-deployment scheme" that they use for filling vacancies; I suppose they can just slot an employee at the end of their contract into an interim job like that.

As I write this I haven't seen (let alone signed) the contract yet, but I know it will be a Teaching & Scholarship Lectureship for 01/02/2017 to 30/06/2017. I will officially be a lecturer! That sounds very serious and senior. I'll have to get used to that.

And after June? We shall see! The university will have to decide whether they want to keep James' teaching in the long term. If they do, I will be in a good position to apply for that job! And if they don't, well, then the world is my oyster...

03 December 2016

New assignment: an improvement

The denouement came late. But it came! I have now seen what my students have made of my assignment. And I'm pleased! Of course there was a wide range in how well students had done, but this time few had done badly (there is always at least one) and quite a few who had done very well. What we ask students to do is first plot up a data set of modern foraminifera assemblages in several ways; the forams are from seven different environments, and the various plots might or might not show these as separate. Then we ask them some questions about foraminifera ecology and methods of environmental reconstruction using forams.  The acid test of this assignment is the question in which we ask the students to plot up a set of fossil foram assemblages too; do they fall into areas covered by a specific environment? If so, they are most likely from that environment. Palaeo-environment established, mission accomplished! The problem is a bit that not many students like to be robust doing this; typically, they use only one plot to base their conclusions on. 

 One of the plots the students are asked to make

Last year we had only one student who made all the plots and come to a robust answer, but this year almost 30% had done it. So I'm happy! And the use of MATLAB seemed not to have hindered them. I had made a little instruction video, and that was watched by half the students! Some of them had watched it five times. Making that file was a fortunate decision. I think the assignment has been future-proofed! Now let's hope I can teach it again next year...

02 December 2016

Five weeks of work

The last day of my employment at Bangor University was November the 30th. So am I unemployed now? No! On the 29th I finally received confirmation that I got 185 hours of work paid by Sheffield University, finishing up some unfinished business from the BRITICE project. The first task would be: sieve out the samples I collected from Nottingham. I already sorted I get to keep my desk, computer, log-in, key card, keys to the labs, etc etc. And I get to decide myself when I spend these 185 hours! I do look forward to only working the hours I get paid for. That hasn't happened to me since, eh, I suppose, the job as a coffee lady I had between finishing my MSc and starting my PhD! But of course, in this upcoming job, I will go into the office and do unpaid work anyway; I have my PGCertHE to finish, and there is always stuff to publish. So in practice, nothing at all may change!

And after these five weeks? Well, it is still not entirely clear what will happen with James' teaching. And as long as that is not known it is possible I will be hired to do it. It is, of course, also possible I won't, so I have started applying for other jobs. Stay tuned! No rut to be stuck in for me yet...

01 December 2016

Progress in the dig

It would be an interesting day. We could get through to the next passage in the dig! But there was the other dig, Miles' and mine, too; this one had two charges ready to go, and I thought I could set one off before everybody else was down. Some of the men take quite a while to negotiate the pitch. I don't want to blast while they are in their dig; the chance of it dislocating anything is minimal but well, one has better be cautious.

I scampered down, wired up the furthest charge, and set it off. It rather disappointingly went "flop". Oh dear! I think I know why; I had to drill at 90 degrees with the preferred direction as there wasn't enough space to wield the drill otherwise. That way I had drilled straight through the rock, and we had just then been running low on resin to seal the charges in, so the charge might just have dropped into a void underneath the actual rock. Oh dear!

I went back to the others to say I had done the detonation, but then several were still at the top of the pitch. I could set the other one off as well! So I had Phil warn the others and scampered back. The other charge had the desired effect! So I came out again and joined the others.

Time to have a look if we still thought it was a good idea to go through! We decided it was. But we didn't know what we would find, so we would have to be cautious. We decided to go in in pairs; if something goes wrong, you won't have to face that alone, while there would still be several people outside to help you out. We also brought a darren drum with emergency supplies through. One never knows!

David and Phil went first. When they came back they said you could go all the way through the level to the next chamber, but the entrance was blocked by loose rubble. Exciting but also a bit disheartening! But now it was my turn. Stupidly, I was the only person who had a camera with me, so I took pics all along the way. I got through and I saw that there was a fault in the ceiling, which had caused a lot of roof failure, which had lead to a lot of rubble on the floor. Not an easy place to work from! And the next chamber looked like a massive dig. Oh well!

 The entrance to the dig

When we were all out we were a bit at a loss. This looked like so much of a challenge it was difficult to see where to start! David and Phil decided to take a breaker bar in and have a rummage at the chamber, but that was a two person job, so I retired into my own dig.

I first tried to get rid of a rock we had previously tried to blow up but which had only cracked. I got the top off! But that meant the bottom was still very much in the way. Bugger! I then tried to remove a lot of mid-sized rubble from the working end of our dig. If  could get rid of it I may see further ahead! But it was uncomfortable. The space restrictions meant you had to prod at the rubble from an unpleasant angle with a way too heavy rod and bang your hands into things and be careful to not get rocks on your head. Made some good progress though! But after a while I figured I needed a tea break. That's nicer in company, so I went to the others.

I found Mick and Paul quite a way back. They said the others were attacking the rubble in the entrance to the chamber and were actually making good progress! That was exciting! They said they checked on them every half hour. I would do the next check. Bringing a camera! But first I had the desired cup of tea.

When I went in I saw the men had indeed made good progress. I stuck my head in; I could clamber into the chamber! I took lots of pictures so as to document the place well. I did not go exploring; the entrance wasn't secured yet and I didn not want to disturb anything. But I could see the passage to the next level! Exciting!

I went back in to the level, and then we all went back. We still eyed the first unsupported bit with suspicion; now we knew it went, we would have to do some more securing of this part of the dig too. Some rocks could still slide down! But that was for next week. Now we could go home triumphantly and inform those that had not been there! New ground, here we come!

29 November 2016

Saturday run

It's quite normal for me to go on a scamper in the weekend, but this week the weather was so nice it deserves a blogpost. I thought I'd go to Aberffraw, but this time run along the road to the shore, and then see how things felt. I had run in the dunes before but that wasn't an unadulterated success. These dunes have nasty grass!

I set off. I got a bit distracted by some gravelly country roads. The view from there on the countryside, the estuary of the river Ffraw, and the snowy mountains on the mainland was amazing. When I ran out of country roads I went on along the road to the coast. When I got there I realised I was very close to the very cute church Llangwyfan. I couldn't really not go and have a look! It was low tide. That matters; at high tide the church is on an island.

I decided to not immediately climb onto the bump that houses the church, but to walk around it. I was not alone! I heard canoodling sounds, and saw four legs dangle down from the sea wall. Then one set of legs suddenly grew a head, belonging to one of my students. Slightly weird! It got worse; he invited me to join the hug. I said I'd think about it... The exchange was all in good spirits, though.

I continued my way. I saw a small road go past the nearby race course. I knew about it, as my neighbour frequents it on his motorbikes, but I had never actually seen it. I knew that road wasn't connected to the one I came from by anything other than the main road, but well, what's a little running along the main road (which isn't all that main anyway) on a sunny day? So I did. Without trouble I got back to the village; I had done some 6 miles in the end. A nice little outing!

Nice views

Llangwyfan in the distance

Back in Aberffraw

28 November 2016

Even more dig

I struggle to imagine how this is still interesting to anybody other than me. But everyone who is tired of talk about digging can skip this and wait for me to write about other things.

This week we were actually with a fair number of people going to the digs. David came straight from a field trip, so I travelled with Paul (Rich wasn't coming). He volunteered his car: he had only got his license a few months ago, and bought his first car in September. This would be the first time it would be the main car coming from Anglesey! Exciting. His driving was fine, and we got safely to the parking lot where David, Phil, Simon and Briony were already waiting.

This night we would bring some more supplies in: some more scaff (that Phil had brought) for support, and some buckets for hauling as they wear out rather quickly. We took some more scaff from the manager's office (with Miles' blessing) and then we went in. There it got worse: Miles had wondered if we would need a 50 tonne jack for helping support things. These things are heavy! Some 34 kg to be precise. I had volunteered to bring it in, but only in an efficient way. That's where one of the buckets came in! We managed to get the beast into it, and I tied a rope to it, and started dragging it along the floor. That worked well! But then we came to the collapse.

People had suggested dangling it from a scaff bar and carrying it with two people, but I didn't fancy negotiating the collapse with a weigthed scaff bar on my shoulder. I bundled the whole thing into my bag. It fit! Briony took the original contents (mainly tea) and all together we made it across. I arrived on the other side rather sweaty. From there on things got easy; Simon grabbed the rope too and together we dragged the bucket to the pitch.

When we got there, David was already down, talking with Miles. A message came through; we didn't need the jack! Oh dear, all for nothing. Oh well. Bringing the thing down would not be too much faff but getting it back up would be. Maybe leave it for now! If we would chang our minds we could always get it after all.

We went into our dig. The first collapse you have to get through to get there had been made a lot wider. For me it doesn't matter too much! The passage to our squeeze was bigger too. Miles had also been wiggling some big slabs just behind the squeeze; they moved! So we started by sliding one out (I got my fingers underneath it twice - ouch) and me deciding the other one was way too big and needed blasting. So the drill came out! I also try to drill three other rocks; that wasn't an unadulterated success as two were in such an awkward position and orientation you couldn't get the drill to fit where you wanted it, which tends to lead to (too) short, and badly positioned, drillholes. But partial success is success too! Miles drilled another in a rock that had so far defied him. We decided to not wire all of them up; we only had a small detonator and that meant having to put the charges parallel, but then you can't tell if one doesn't go. There was one I wanted to be sure of as its placement wasn't ideal; that one would be done later. Another one was too far away to be wired up with the rest. We would have to come back for these!

We waited for the resin to set while having tea with pork pie. Lovely! Then we went to see what the others were up to. They were doing well! They weren't sure how much longer they would want to stay. I went back to finalise the wiring (a bit of a faff; you often blow off the end of your blasting wire so then you need to strip it again) and then came back. They were pretty much ready to go! So when they were all out of their dig I set off our two charges, accompanied by Simon, and had a quick look at what the result was. One rock reduced to powder and one only cracked. Hm! Oh well. Time to get out. I switched off the generator and followed the others out. Another productive day!

26 November 2016

Welsh highs and lows

I've not missed a Welsh clas syet! Not recently, anyway. Not because of busy work. I think it's important and I like it so I make time for my Welsh classes. But I temporarily stopped climbing, and with that I accidentally reduced the practice I get. Eifion, the chairman of the climbing club, is the only person I know outside the Welsh learning community with whom I speak Welsh unless there is a particular reason not too. He single-handedly raises my level!

I was just contemplating this when my phone rang. It was an unknown number, so I didn't answer. A voicemail was left, though. I checked; it was Radio Cymru. The lady on the other side started rattling at me at top speed. It was clear to me there was something remarkable happening with an auction and Anne Frank, but I couldn't follow what. Then I asked her to slow down; that helped. it was a poem by Anne Frank that would be auctioned off! And the starting price was €30.000. What did I think of it? Would I be willing to talk about it on the radio the next day at 6PM? I hesitated; I knew nothing about the topic, and I wasn't sure yet if I would be available at that time. I said I would ask any other Dutchies if they were more keen.

Later I got another call. Had I found any Dutchies? Well, no. But the interview would now be at 7:55AM; I would be free then. I said I'd do it! I had some time to google the topic. I even tried a translation of the poem in question.

In Welsh class Elwyn helped me with the translation; I had been a bit clunky in places. But then I got a text from the radio people; they cancelled the interview. Bunch of weathervanes! Oh well.

It would have been fun to do this interview, but well, I got several phone calls in Welsh done over it, and I still find these scary. Phone calls tend to be the last thing you're comfortable with in a foreign language!

And I didn't get the interview, but I did end up with a nice poem in Welsh: find it below! And if anyone wants to pay €30.000 (or $148.000, as it went for) for this one: I promised Elwyn to split the profits!

Os nad ydych chi wedi gwneud ech gwaith yn dda,
Wedi colli amser gwerthfawr,
Ailgyddwch ynddi unwaith eto,
Yn well na chynt.
Os ydy pobl eraill wedi eich ceryddu chi
Ynghylch eich camwedd,
Gofalwch bod chi’n ei wella fo,
Hynny ydy ateb.