31 January 2016

Guy Fawkes' night

Guy Fawkes was a Yorkie. And in York, one does not celebrate the execution of a local! At least, that's what I read in "the History of York". I wasn't sure what to make of that; would they really not have fireworks night up here on the 5th of November? That would be quite some constraint. And now I know: yes they do have bonfire night up here; they just don't seen to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes... but there was a nice firework display on campus! I'm happy with the light and the noise, but not the bloodlust...

Picture by Abigail

30 January 2016

Exploring new ground again

If you're a mine explorer, you tend to pay extra attention to holes in the topography. We sometimes do trips to scout out holes that someone has seen during a leisurely walk through the countryside. And so we did last Sunday. A shaft, some adit and some stoping had been observed, and we wanted to have a look at it all. Some of these features were quite a way apart, so it would involve quite some walking around. The weather forecast was atrocious, but when we got to the parking place it turned out to be quite nice!

We had a nice walk past a stope that could only be dropped on a rope. We would leave this one for now. The we came to another stope which was a crawl-in. It looked promising, but there were bats there, so we left it for later in the season, when the bats would be on holiday. We continued down the hill, and passed a very wet adit. I lowered myself into it to see if it went; it turned out you could see that as well from the dam that kept the water in, without getting wet yourself. Oh well! But we walked on.

A nice stroll in the countryside

We then came to a little adit; this one only went a short distance. Then we tried a nearby stope; that didn't go far either. Then we figured it was a good time to have lunch. The weather was nice, the views were great, what more do you want? And we had to decide what to do next. I wanted to drop the shaft that had been mentioned, but David wanted to take Rich, our new recruit, to get to see some proper mine and not only a few trial adits. We decided to split up; half went off in the direction of the shaft, and the others in the direction of the entrance to a known through trip.

We decided to have a look at some work being done along the river, and then walk up to the shaft. It was quite a walk! When we got there I lay down to look in. It went a fair way! This looked promising. We started to rig.I was the first down. It was a bit of a challenging pitch; it wasn't quite vertical, and there was a lot of slosh that readily came down. Furthermore, a fully grown tree had ended up in the shaft, getting in the way and entangling the rope. I proceeded slowly!

We thought we had seen the bottom from the top, but that wasn't true; the shaft had a bit of a bend in it, and went further down. It went quite a way! And I didn't see any obvious way on but maybe there was a less obvious one. When I got to the bottom I unclipped from the rope. I saw there was a potential way on, down a rat hole at the bottom, but I was a bit weary about giving it a try. I couldn't communicate with the top, so any time someone would notice the slack rope and come down too. And throw who knows what on my head! There was pretty much nowhere to hide. I stuck my head in; it clearly went, but was the opening big enough? I'd wait for Edwyn. I wedged myself into the least exposed corner and waited for him.

The tree in the shaft

Edwyn came down. As soon as I could hear him, I asked him to relay the message to the top that nobody else should come down until further notice; with nowhere to hide two people down was the maximum number. He yelled up and it seemed sorted.

Edwyn touched down, and I showed him the situation. I tried the squeeze; it felt unpleasantly tight. Not a good idea to get stuck! I retreated. Then Edwyn had a look, but he didn't want to go too far in. We decided to go back up. I went first. Edwyn suggested I go up to a side passage I had missed on the way down, get off the rope, and let him go up while I scouted it out. From there we could go up all the way. I set off. I was reminded of the fact my chest croll slips. It has lost some of its teeth! I had noticed before; in early December already, to be precise. I had failed to take action on it though. Now I regretted that. I went up awkwardly! But I got there. I got out of the rope. Within seconds I had seen the side passage didn't go any further. There was, however, a big clump of lead in it. Edwyn had commented on some mostly-buried lead at the bottom and that it would be worth a lot. Maybe he wanted this more accessible clump?

A cute mushroomed pine cone I found in the side passage

He came up. He liked the clump! I suggested he go up to the top while I tie the lead to the rope. And so we did. When I was up we teamed up to lug the lead up, de-rigged, and went back to the cars. There we changed, and waited for those who had done the through trip. It was quite pleasant! It may have been January, but I was happily lingering around in my T-shirt. And we had a good day to look back on! And after a while we saw lights. The others! They had had fun too.

The stope was had passed without dropping it was a good candidate for being on the other side of thew squeeze we had seen. It would be worth dropping that and seeing if that was indeed the case! We might even be able to make the passage bigger from the other side. Well worth the try!

28 January 2016

Another Welsh book

The new Pontio building is proud of its Welsh roots. They make quite a fuss of their row names in the cinemas and theater; they go A B C CH D E FF etc. And that's a bit of a gimmick, but they make more serious efforts to promote Welsh culture too. In February they host a play, in Welsh, about the big strike of the quarrymen in nearby Penrhyn Quarry (the one that now holds Zipworld Velocity). I didn't know about this strike, in spite of it being a rather big event in regional history.

It's a sad tale, really. In good old Victorian fashion, the quarrymen were not treated well. It seemed things got heated when the quarry didn't allow the union to collect fees from the quarrymen. The quarrymen went on strike. Spoiler alert: the strike lasted 3 years, brought many to destitution, emigration or an early grave, and it also devastated the reputation of Welsh slate. The quality of the product wasn't doubted, but one figured you could order some, only for the quarry to shut down due to a strike. That doesn't help. So in the end the quarrymen lost, the quarry owners lost, and the entire Welsh economy lost. In a way, it's a tale of why one should treat one's employees well; if that would have happened, maybe Penrhyn Castle, which was built with the money made fromt he quarry, would have been less flashy, but in the long run, everybody would have benefited. A wisdom that has not sunk in even more than 100 years later!

But what about the book? When I told my tutor Jenny I had received an invitation to go to the play, with whoever from my Welsh class who wants to go, she advised me to read the book. That's the biggest spoiler alert there is, of course, but she figured I would need my brain cells for struggling with the language, and reading the book might help me with that. If you see it as a language exercise then already knowing the plot doesn't matter. So I read it!

The story follows one specific family of which the father and the oldest son are strikers. The second oldest son has worked in the quarry too, but only for a short time, so he had lost his job before the strike started. You follow the family as they try to sit it out until the strike stops. They hope, of course, it's the quarry management that yields in the end, but it won't be. In the years in between, one son moves to the coal mines of South Wales; one finds employment as a journalist; and one goes offshore. The youngest goes nowhere; he's too young. He later dies. The daughter of the family is already doomed from the beginning as she ended up being made pregnant by, and thus having to marry, some alcoholic awful person who turns scab at the nearest opportunity. And while there clearly are opportunities, none of them are without their disadvantages; going offshore or into a coal mine are dangerous; a skilled quarryman would only be a semi-skilled coal miner, and journalists may be tempted to spend their money on drink rather than send it home to their struggling parents. A bleak book!

It wasn't the best book there is; it's clearly written for a young adult audience, and written in the seventies. What I liked, though, was that they had (purposefully, I suppose, given it played just after 1900) used rather old-fashioned language, to which I am not exposed very often (though certainly sometimes). It's good to see what language has been in order to know why it is nowadays the way it is. We'll see what the play is like! It's as good as sold out; clearly, there is a place for this kind of art!

27 January 2016

Calm Thursday

This Thursday's mine was nice and small. We got out fairly early after having seem pretty much all of it! But it was one of the lesser visited places so it has nice artifacts in it. Among them the best shoe I'd ever seen underground! It was marvellously preserved. It's nice to sometimes have a small trip!

Powder horns

26 January 2016

Unexpected Burns night

Jaco and Marjan invited me to go for dinner with them. That already sounded good before they told me it would be a Scottish night out! Bagpipes, haggis, whisky... count me in. It was a Scottish night, of course, because Burns Night was approaching. (I should have posted this on the actual Burns night! But I forgot.) And the venue was a nearby college that, among others, educated student to be chefs, hotel staff, asnd other functions in the hospitality sector. They seem to cook and serve a big meal every week in order to practice, and if you're on the diner club list you can come and eat it! Marjan and Jaco are, and they can bring guests. So I had a very neat name sign on a table (they go all the way there) as "guest of".

I made sure I looked fairly tidy as I had been warned it was a civilized affair. And the venue indeed asked for that! We had silver cutlery with initials (of the college, of course, not of the diners) and five courses and the poshest containers for butter and whatnot. And there was a fully equipped piper to welcome us.

When we sat down we got a speech, about Burns, the college, the person who had initiated the diners club, and whatnot. Then the dinner actually started; the first course was salmon. Very scottish! It was good. The second course would be haggis, as it needs to be on Burns night it seems, and it was indeed marched in by the head chef, who followed the piper. Then the master of ceremony recited a poem about haggis, while the waiters brought glasse sof whisky around. All good!

A stock image of haggis

The haggis was lovely. And the whisky too. I was enjoying myself! Then the mains came; slow cooked beef rump with pearl barley. That wasn't much of a success; anything slow cooked should be tender but this beef was chewy and dry. Oh well, if these students have nothing more to learn why would they be here? The dessert was amazing.

After all the food we joined beside the tables for a "For Auld Lang Syne"; I know the tune, of course, as it has been recycled, but I didn't know the words, and struggled a bit with the scottishness of it all ("We twa hae run about the braes"; how exactly should that be pronounced?) but we had the lyrics on a sheet. I think I pulled it off! Not sure about the logic of a Dutch woman celebrating Scottishness in Wales but hey ho.

As Marjan does not drink I had her whisky. And I had two beers too; it was Scottish night, after all. I would feel that the next day! I don't drink much these days. But it had been worth it!Who knows, maybe we'll go again...

24 January 2016

Into the snow

The previous weekend I had only admired the snow from a distance. But it was still there, and the message had come home I probably only have another year to enjoy the amazing beauty of Snowdonia. I decided to forget about work and just head into the mountains this weekend! I had a look at the map; I wanted to start somewhere that would get me into the snow fairly quickly, but not in dangerous terrain, and not too far away. I settled on the Snowdon Ranger path that leads to the top of Snowdon (duh) from the northwest. I had no intention at all of actually getting to Snowdon, but I thought I might just have some snow fun on the nearest ridge. I'd play it by ear!

I got up early-ish and got ready. I got into the car and set off. When I was already on the road to Caernarfon I realised I had forgot my ice axe. Oh dear! Don't underestimate Snowdonia in winter. But I didn't turn around to get it. I had crampons; that would have to do.

I parked at the designated space, kitted up, and off I was. The path started green, but soon a dusting of snow appeared, and the path got icy and slippery. It was higher up the mountain than I thought! So I kept going, beyond the first ridge. When I got to a pass I made sure to have a look into the valley on the other side. It was very beautiful! I had a look on the map; would I go on? But the path onward still looked perfectly safe and I was enjoying myself, so I kept going. The snow was getting deeper!

Starting out in the green

Soon the landscape turns brown with white

 Brown with white turns to white with brown

The next time the path got to the ridge I had another look. I also had a chat with two chaps with whom I had been leap-frogging all the way. They turned out to be scousers (plastic or otherwise) and they didn't have a map. They took a picture of mine, and on we all went. But quite soon I had my head in the clouds. I was here for the views, so that was my cue for turning around. I got to something like 670m. It had also started snowing! I scampered down again.

 Selfie with decorative valley

 It must have been windy here in the previous days

This is what the path onward looked like; not characterized by great views! I turned back. 

 Proper snow.

More snow falling

Down was quick. I didn't even have to slow down where it had been very slippery on the way up, as the few hours of thaw had sorted most of the ice out. I was back at the car at ~12:15. Time left for chores! A day with fun and usefulness. My kind of day!

21 January 2016

Heed the danger

If you say you go into abandoned mines, you often get the response "you're crazy, that's dangerous". I hold the opinion the most dangerous bit about it is the drive to where we park up, and the drive back. Underground, not much goes wrong! But I know plenty of mine explorers who have got seriously injured on the road. And we are not risk-averse but we are a sensible bunch, so if something gets too dangerous we abort the mission.

This week we would do a trip with three abseils and some wading through deep, cold water. All good! But when we drove up to the meeting point my car struggled up the road. It was a road I hadn't done yet in the new car; the old car was alright with it as long as I didn't have to stop anywhere. Going up such a slope from a stand-still with at least one passenger was asking too much! But the new car is newer and it has a bigger engine (1.6 l instead of 1.3 l) so I expected no problems. But the extra weight of the car turned out to compensate for that extra volume! I had to stay in first gear, I had to stop a few times, and I burnt my clutch. O dear! And there was snow forecast.

We met up with Edwyn and Andy. Andy mentioned he had struggled to get up the icy hill. Shit! It would get worse. It was still a bit above zero but that wouldn't stay that way, and added snow wouldn't help either. We decided it was too dangerous! And we knew a mine close to the main road, so we decided to go there instead.

It's a nice mine. We this time went in on the side rather than at the top, as we had lost some time pondering at the other place. So it was a modest trip but it was nice! I saw some funny corners of the mine I hadn't seen before. And when we drove back it was snowing hard, and the road was terribly slippery! I was glad we weren't on the steep little road as I might have slid quite out of control. And we'd proven we are responsible citizens! And maybe we can do the three-pitcher next week...

A picture from an earlier trip, by David

19 January 2016

University in doldrums

I like it here. I like my job and the School of Ocean Sciences and Wales and Welsh. And I don’t like upping my sticks once again and starting from scratch elsewhere. But it looks increasingly likely I will have to at the end of my contract.

Recently I received an email from our dean. It detailed the financial situation of the university. After all the building malarkey, it wasn’t a big surprise the news wasn’t good. But it was worse than I thought. It said “the university will not make any new or replacement appointments until further notice”. That’s it, then! No jobs here. And it also means Bangor University has become a bad employer. If they don't replace anyone I bet they expect the people still there to do the work of whoever leaves, in addition to their own work. And everybody will be overworked already. It’s a sad affair. But at least I have another year to enjoy this place. Who knows where I’ll end up after this!

18 January 2016


I run. And now I also climb. The running keeps me fit and my legs strong. Now I climb I also get stronger in the arms; the once a week session probably already helps, but I do some exercises (like pull-ups) to build up my strength quicker. Strength helps a lot on a climbing wall! But then I figured it's a bit daft to have strong legs, be in the process of getting strong arms, but to ignore everything in between. I figured I needed to boost my core strength too. And how did I go about it? Well, as most people who at least kid themselves sometimes they are living in the 21th Century: I got myself an app for it!

I went for the first app that presented itself: Sworkit. It had all sorts of training routines, so I soon had found the "core strength" option. I tried it with a 5 minute session. And I couldn't do it! After the first 30 seconds my stomach muscles were on fire. Oh dear. I had been not a day too early with deciding I needed to step up my game!

One day I accidentally hit the wrong button and did a "general workout". That involved all muscle groups. And that really brought the message home: the core strength exercises still killed me but the leg muscles and cardio exercises left me bored and unchallenged. I'm not very balanced yet! But with the app as a sports instructor I hope to sort that out. Maybe not quite a new year's resolution, but I hope to be generally strong at the end of the year!

16 January 2016

Winter has come

After a washed-out December we now have a noticeably colder and dryer January. It's now sometimes so cold we have snow on the mountains and so dry you can drive to them without being stopped by flooded roads. Very nice! Unfortunately there is too much on to properly enjoy it. Maybe if it stays around until, eh, well, May? Hm. Maybe the Welsh snow will remain seen from a distance for a while!

14 January 2016

Reckless neighbour

When my neighbour bought the house that made him my neighbour, he set to work to make it suit his needs. What he did indoors I don't know, but I could see he was quite rigorously changing the garden. He said he wanted to do it up properly. It looked a bit neglected. He was dreaming of a path around the garage, a shed for tools, and even a hot tub. It sounded so ambitious I admit I struggled to believe it! But then he took down the trees and the shrubs, made a path, made a new fence with a door, started building a shed... that garden changed so fast I couldn't keep up.

And then one day I went for a run. When I came back I saw the neighbour, his dad, and more men at the open garage door. And inside that door I saw a massive wooden structure. The hot tub! He had actually done it! That's cool. But it looked big and heavy. Way too big to be carried through the garage into the garden. And that was the biggest entrance into the garden...

If it couldn't go through the garage there was pretty much only one other option; via my drive over the fence. That looked tricky! That thing was so big and heavy it could easily crush a man to death from a height of, say, the top of my neighbour's fence. But if they thought they could safely do it they had my blessing...

And they did. They had dreamed up a construction of making an incline with two ladders, put the tub on it, slide it up, and then tilt the ladders with tub and all until they were horizontal. These could then pivot over the fence and let the tub slide down on the other side! Very elegant! And it worked! I think my neighbour has now learned to pay more attention to dimensions and weight of things before he buys them, but he can do that paying attention in a hot tub in the garden! Success!

The behemoth filling the drive

Putting it on the ladders

Sliding up
Raising the ladders
On top of the fence; work almost done!

12 January 2016


We call it mine exploration, but quite often, we know in advance what we'll see. Its always exciting if we really have something to explore. And we currently do! The men had started prodding in what either was a collapse or a backfilled chamber, to see if they could get into the level leading on beyond it. And now I would get to see it. You wouldn't; I realised on my way I had forgot my camera.

I was the first one down so I had a look. It looked iffy indeed! Quite a lot of rock just waiting to come crashing down. Getting past that safely would be a challenge. Then Edwyn arrived; he showed me the way on. The passage looked tempting; it was big enough for a human! But a bit risky. If any rock next to it would move, the whole chamber would probably follow. Not good! I started to clear up some loose rubble from the big rocks to get a closer look at the big rocks which, for now, kept everything in place. But then I saw a crucial one moving. Good we hadn't tried the passage!

Our main objective for this night was cleaning out the passage; whatever we would be doing in that chamber, we would want to have a clear exit in case something went wrong. The earlier nights the men had taken a lot of rock out of the chamber and the passage had become narrow. We tried to roll away the bigger rocks, or make them smaller if they were too big. We had brought a drill and some hammers and chisels. We set to work.

It wasn't only the loose rock in the chamber that worried us; we were also a bit wary of the ceiling, which contained quite some hanging death. Edwyn heroically knocked some down. If anyone can out-dive a rock fall it's him!

David had hoped we'd be able to dig a passage in the corner, protected by big, wedged rocks. That didn't look too promising. Stabilizing the whole chamber would be a bit much to ask. I don't know how we'll ever make it through! If at all. But we're a resourceful bunch; we might think of something. That passage is tantalizing enough to keep us motivated!

10 January 2016

New year new light

A good headlight is very important underground. In the southwest I managed quite well with an old club lamp. But then I moved to York and joined the YCC. That meant stepping up my game! During the first trip I did with them I usedfour sets of batteries if I remember correctly. That means having to stop three times to change them! And when we got out I didn't have much battery power to spare. It was time for an upgrade.

I asked around what light came highly recommended. The answer was: a Petzl with upgrade. I tried it. I wasn't impressed. Then I asked again. People pointed at one of the Johns of NYMCC who makes lamps himself. He's not cheap but he's good! He said he was just making a new batch. He'd get it done before I left the county. But then April came and I moved. He let me borrow an older prototype.

The new, borrowed light was just what I wanted. It lasted forever on a battery pack and it was a bright as you could want it to be. And it was bomb proof. I need my electronics to be hardy! So I was happy. And just waiting for the finished product.

Over one and a half years went by. Nothing. Then the YCC/NYMCC came to Wales again. Including John. And including the new light! I was excited! It's no use when not attached to a helmet, though, so I didn't get to try the new light out. And as soon as I was home I got a message from John: if I could send it back so he could improve it even more. How long would that last? But it was only a few weeks, including Christmas. It was sent to me by Tuesday the 5th, but I wasn't home. I collected it from the Royal Mail depot on the 6th. That evening I mounted it on my helmet. So on our Thursday trip on January the 7th I could try it out! Finally! And I may only have a year of caving ahead of me as nobody knows where I'll find  a next job, but in a way, I've already had some 18 months of amazing use of this lamp, through its brother. I'm sorted!

I mounted the lamp Margot style: while simultaneously cooking. 

The finished product

08 January 2016

New year, back in the lab

Last year I thought I'd be back in the lab, picking forams for radiocarbon dating, but life kept getting in the way. Especially the students vs staff debacle was taking up time. It still does; I'll post another update if and when it's finally really over. But in spite of that I got quite some work done this first week of the new year. Together with our new-ish lab technician Martyn I am now zooming through both the remaining samples from 2014 and the first ones of 2015. Martyn prepares the samples and I check them under the microscope; I check if there are forams in them, as I can date them, and I also check if they are cold-water species. We are looking for the end of glaciation in the UK, so the sediments we hope to date are deposited in very cold conditions. If I see warm water species in my samples it means we have mis-targeted the stratigraphic level we sampled. And in the old year I didn't see many "Arctic" species but this week I have seen quite many. Soon I will have several samples ready! A good start of the new year...

My set-up in the lab

One of the species I like to see

05 January 2016

First underground trip of 2016

The Christmas period is not only one for family and, if one wishes, religious celebration, but also a time in which people have time to go underground. Some of the chaps had gone underground on Boxing day, several had gone on New Year's Eve, but I hadn't been able to attend these. Then there was a trip on January the second; I looked forward to that! We'd meet in the Lakeside cafe for breakfast (cottage pie, as far as I am concerned) and then drive on to where we'd park and change.

We struggled a bit finding the entrance, but the weather was nice, which was a lovely change from the previous few trips, so I didn't mind some scrambling through the woods. And then we found it.

Where's the entrance? 

I had been here before, a year earlier, with the YCC. I remembered the stope we came into. The last time I hadn't taken many pictures, but I had never seen the results of the other photographers, so this was my chance to catch up. I was in a slightly lazy mood so I enjoyed the pottering about and making mediocre pictures.

 The next step was going down a level via an impressive ladder. Below there was plenty to see too!

Someone coming down the long ladder 

 Very decorative fungus growing on a door

The way out involves very beautiful inclines. I didn't try to photograph those; that's hard! I hope one of the more talented/equipped/patient has. But when we came to the top we figured we'd split up. No worries. The way out was rather wet, and some had gone ahead as they were getting cold. We took some more pictures and then followed. At the end of the deep cold water we had to negotiate a challenging fence and then we could get back to the cars.

Don and a headgear

After changing we went to Chez Pingu as he had, for unknown reasons, bought a mound of food and needed people to eat it. And we are an obliging bunch! And during dinner we were entertained by his cat Sooty, who had recovered marvellously from a nasty accident.

In Mick's lounge; pic by Andy

Altogether it was a nice start of the underground year. Soon we will go back to the dig the men had done during two occasions where I hadn't been there on account of being elsewhere, but which sounded very exciting and promising! The next Thursday I'd finally get to see it!

03 January 2016

Flood damage by proxy

While I had been away, quite some rain records had been broken in the UK, among them near where I live. Capel Curig, the village near which I celebrated my birthday, and where we hit the worst floods on the road trying to drive back to the hut, had 21cm of rainfall in 48 hours over Christmas. It would have been less on Anglesey but it gives an idea. I didn't worry about my house as I live on a hill. Water just runs off! But I had cheered too soon.

I came home the 29th. On the 30th I took my bike into town. I walked into the garage to get my bike. I noticed a bike light was lying next to it. Strange! Then, and only then, did I notice that my cupboard had keeled over. Sometimes the most blatant things escape me for quite a while. But this was mayhem. By the looks of it, water had come into the garage, had pulled the legs of the cupboard into a curl, and that had sent it toppling. Oh dear! I forgot to take a picture of the situation as it was, but the next day I did take a picture of the mess and the cupboard with its curved legs.

The mess that managed to escape me initially
 The curved leg, which doesn't look so bad when the thing is lying on its side

I decided to just place a slat between the front and back legs in order to prevent the front legs from curling to the back. It wasn't much work, and it worked! And soon I could place everything back in it. I entered the new year with a tidy garage. It shows you can't mess with Welsh weather, even under a roof!
All well again!

01 January 2016

Happy 2016

May all who read this have a lovely 2016! And those who don't too, but that's tangential. I started the new year with Jaco, Marjan and their son Arthur. It was calm but nice! Maybe not a representative start; for me this will be an eventful year. The longevity of the year is equal to that of my contract, so I will have to find another job again this year. Every time it's a stressful thing! Let's hope it works out without too much faff this time. We'll see!

Any other changes this year? I think it will hold a fair amount of climbing. I went once in the past year and it should become a habit in the new year. Furthermore I should finish my PGCertHE. The first part is due in March!

I had also hoped this would be the year I wouldn't be mistaken for a student anymore, but I pretty much ended the year by someone asking me if I was over 18 on Manchester airport. And this chap may not have been excessively observant but it doesn't bode well for my hope. Oh well. It is still annoying; who wants to be considered a child when they're 40? But the frustration fades.

I do expect a lot from this year, though, as so far life is only getting better, and if that trend continues then 2016 will clearly turn out the best one ever!