31 August 2016

On with the dig, with new kit

A dig is often a long term project. Ours is too! I hadn't visited it since June but others, especially David, had been chipping away at it, slowly but steadily. This week we'd go back as David had bought a drill. That allowed him doing all sorts of cool things without being dependent on others! He can now go and bolt things, but what's more important for the dig: he can drill holes for Hilti caps and blow things up. As the dig is best dug by a very small team, that's actually quite good. So although we were with six people we went to the dig. We needed to try out this new piece of kit! And it wasn't his only one; he had bought a cheap endoscope too. He hoped we could poke it into possibly promising little holes between the rocks to see if they would offer a potential way on. Lots of kit to try out!

Since our last visit, Miles had made steps in the wall, so you don't need to travel along a rope to get up or down. That makes things a lot quicker! We got there and had a rummage. We didn't really have a specific target to blow up, but we wanted to try the drill. There was a rock in the floor that impeded progress so that became our target. It didn't go too well; David bent the firing rod when he whacked it to fire the Hilti caps, so it wouldn't come out. But we got rid of the rock in the end. We also tried the endoscope but that was a modest success. It's a nice toy though! If only because it has a different colour perception to us. Brown turns blue and red turns green and so on. Funny!

I spent most of my time sitting around. I had brought the map, in case I wanted to go on a stroll and match the places to the map. It's not easy to connect the two! And we had Briony (Simon's girlfriend) with us; she had just moved to our neck of the woods from before having lived in Wrexham, so suddenly she could join us on Thursday Nights. And she was on a mission to get to know the way in Cwmorthin so Simon took her on the round trip, and I joined them. It wasn't entirely pleasant as I stupidly had forgot my neoprene socks, so I was doing it all on thin cotton socks. That's very cold, and it rubs! But it was good to finally see where I was on the map.

At the end of the trip Briony and I even lost Simon, but that was OK as I know the way too. I stressed her out once as I had just looked on the map, and thereby blinded myself (maps reflect a lot more light than slate) so at the next junction I spontaneously went the wrong way, because I couldn't see. I only went wrong some 10m but Briony wasn't enjoying it. And when we got to the central chamber the others weren't there yet; we checked the exit to make sure they hadn't gone out and left a message or something, but the we bumped into them on the way back.

I'm not so sure about the Endoscope, but I'm happy with that drill as we'll need it again on Sunday, when we need to do some bolting. And next time we go to Cwm I hope I remember to bring the map again. It's quite nice to know where you are!

David ready to deploy the endoscope

29 August 2016

Matlab; ready for testing

I keep writing on this blog about my successes in MATLAB. And now I think all is well! The last time I mentioned I needed a script by Connor adapted, so the resulting graph looked better. And that's sorted (see below)! Yueng adapted it so the plot with only the modern samples looked good. Then I tried to adapt that script once again so it could plot both the modern and fossil samples. That didn't work so well. I'm struggling with that stuff! Then I asked for help again; Yueng came over, looked at my script, added one "end" and then it worked perfectly. Amazing! It meant I had managed to make the script read the larger file, and plot the two types of data with a different symbol with a different colour scheme, and had only missed one "end". I'm better at this than I thought! I was very impressed with myself. And grateful for Yueng's patience. I've now asked James to test out this new version. I hope that all goes smoothly!

Viking hand

On the James Cook, I noticed I had a small lump in my hand. It sat on the joint of my ring finger, just above the palm. It bruised easily and wasn't very comfortable. I wondered what it was. I considered going to the doctor but I tend to see if unusual physical features vanish of their own accord before I do so. So I waited! And it didn't bother me too much for a while.

Recently, it bothered me again. My pull-ups seemed to make things worse. And it felt like the tendon sometimes got stuck behind it. Maybe time, about a year later, to pop to the doctor after all! Which is what I did.

She felt the bump and mentioned it was some abnormal growth which would cause the tendon of my finger to contract and pull my finger in. I can fully stretch it now, but I run the risk of losing that ability. She didn't give me the name of that ailment, but I immediately knew enough! This was a description of Viking Hand, or, as it is more officially known, of Dupuytren's contracture. Oh dear. I didn't see that coming! The people I know that have it are in a later stage, which is a bit more prominent, and I hadn't recognised my mild symptoms as the same thing.

File:Morbus dupuytren fcm.jpg
 This is what my hand will start looking like (albeit in my case it will be my left hand, fortunately). Pic by Frank C. Müller

So now what? The website of the associated society suggests in the early stage you can get radiation therapy. Beyond that stage, surgery or steroid injections become options once the contracture becomes too much of a nuisance. Should I try to get radiated? I could imagine it's a hassle, and I don't know how fast the issue will progress. Maybe let things run their natural course? Or go and see if I can get onto a waiting list for treatment? As it's a slow disease I have some time to think about it.

A slightly wry thing is that steroid injections are a common treatment. They tried that on my feet, decades ago! It was torture. They couldn't really see where they stuck that needle, of course, so they went by my sounds; when I would start screaming they would know that they had reached the problem bit of my foot, and emptied the syringe. Not pleasant. Maybe fate is bringing these times back, for a laugh?

In the meantime I think of the people I know who have it too: the first was my close colleague Tasha, who introduced me to its existence by finding out she had it. When that happened it was already in the contraction stage; knowing Tasha, she just ignored it in the earlier stages. She would walk around on a broken leg for weeks.

Then there was my colleague in Plymouth Chris. And the latest is my fellow climber Tony. He's our best climber, and his hand is also already in the next stage. I am glad to see he can still climb really well with a hand like that! And he says it does not hurt, although he also mention discomfort while doing pull-ups. But that is a detail. My future, although now festooned with a nuisance, still looks rosy...

PS I remembered my old caving mate Lionel had it too. It didn't stop him either!

25 August 2016

Swimming with divers

We see a lot of underground Wales but there is a lot more to see if you can dive. I sometimes see a chap on our forum who does exactly that; he sometimes asks for people willing to help carry diving kit to the part of a mine where the dive will take place. I had never met him, but I am quite curious to find out what's there where we cannot go; so I applaud his efforts and am willing to contribute. And then a mail arrived from Phil: he would show the chap, Paul, the mine where we had been swimming before, and where we would like to take our ROV (which has been out of action for some two years now; such a pity!). If anyone wanted to join? And I was keen; I like underground swimming. And who knows what this may lead to.

In the end, family issues prevented Phil from actually swimming the mine himself, but that was OK; Edwyn and I were around, and I had swam it before. And I had forgotten where we had entered and exited the mine, but Phil did have time and energy to guide us to the entrance.

I drove to Edwyn, got a cup of coffee, and then we drove to the lakeside cafe to meet the others. Paul, his wife and dog, and another Derbyshire caver were already there. And then Phil appeared too. We went for another hot drink in the cafe and then we were off. To my surprise, the divers changed into their wetsuits at the parking space. It's quite a hike up the hill! And it was August! Edwyn and I carried ours. The other caver didn't have one, so he probably shouldn't get into the water at all.

We walked up, and soon Paul stripped to the waist. His wife informed me she now understood why I was carrying and not wearing the suit. But we got there! Phil had said the entrance was at the bottom of the first incline, but there was no sign of it; some scouting by Edwyn revealed it was at the bottom of the second incline. Good job Phil! But we got away with it. I started to change into an exhaustive layer of neoprene. This place is cold!

Edwyn saw the neoprene build-up I was working on and decided he might have to bail out. He only has what you could call neoprene dungarees; not enough for this place! So the two divers and I went in. We swam the first chamber, and shone our torches in the next. Didn't look diveable. We swam across and repeated the exercise. Same! We then swam one more and reached the end. Hm! Where was this alleged incline? But we admired the hobnailed bootprints. And swam back. From the other side of the third chamber, suddenly an onward passage came into view. Aha! That must have been our goal. But the divers realized it wouldn't be easy to get the kit to that place. They already struggled to get out of the water without kit! But at least they now know where it is, and what it looks like, and they can make an informed judgement on whether it's worth the effort. And I had had a nice Sunday swim!
 An old picture by Simon of Phil swimming one of the chambers

On the way back we could have stopped at the chamber with the artifacts, but we didn't; the divers had left their dog in the car and didn't want to leave him there for too long. And we were all getting cold. Especially the divers, as I was wearing neoprene gloves and a hood, and they weren't! So when we got out I went to my dry clothes immediately to change. Nice and snug! I also fancied a cuppa so I went out with Edwyn while the divers took some pictures of the first chamber.

After we had all come out and gone back to the cars we discussed the matter a bit, but bot Edwyn and I had stuff to do, so we wished the Derbyshire folk all the best and left. At his place more coffee followed and then it was time to go home and do things such as writing this blog post. I'll keep an eye on the forum to see if our guests will try to indeed dive this place!

24 August 2016

No mud run

Mud runs sound fun! I think I'd love a combination of a race and an assault course. So when I drove east with James (for a meeting that didn't make it to the blog) and saw one announced on a banner beside the road, I memorized the information on th banner, and registered later. It's not cheap, these mud runs! It was £65. I suppose providing a lot of obstacles comes at a price. I figured it would be worth it!

In the week coming up to the race I suddenly received an email with the subject "Order REFUNDED for Land Runners UK - Pen Y Mynydd Mud Run Challenge - 2016"; what was that about? I checked; the refund had indeed taken place. But why? There was nothing on the website suggesting the race was cancelled, and I hadn't requested a refund. What was going on? I mailed the email address listed in the email for further information, but didn't hear anything back.

The race would be a fair distance away. I suppose I could go anyway in case this was all a mistake,  and explain the situation, but I didn't want to drive for nothing. It could be cancelled after all. And I didn't feel welcome anymore! I decided to forget the whole thing. I had had a lot of stuff going on the previous days so a calm Saturday would actually come in handy. So no mud run debut for me! Maybe some other time!

This didn't count as a mud run

22 August 2016

Underground where before we just walked past

Twice I walked past Cwt-y-Bugail mine. Once scouting, and once with my parents. It looks like a nice cute small mine. And you get there via a very nice leisurely tramway! So when several of us had been away at the Cropredy festival for two weeks, and I had been having lots of guests, and many of us had not been underground for two weeks. And many of us were tired. Someone suggested Cwt-y-Bugail, and we went for it. With my dad I had seen the junction in the tramway we would be coming from; it was nice to now see it the whole way. And then the mine! I would finally see it. And there was more to it than I thought. The spoil heaps are so small, but we ended up seeing many impressive chambers!

The walk up was nice. When we got close we saw a white Landrover approach. Would that be Miles, of Go Below? It turned out not to be. Instead it was a chap for South Snowdonia Mountain Rescue, scouting locations for an exercise. Having bumped into us he wondered if a shared exercise would be in order. We thought it would! But we also thought the midges were getting unbearable so we parted ways; we wanted to get underground, where the midges don't go.

Discussing with the MRT chap

We explored one entrance, which contained some machinery, a loaded-up cart, and a fallen-over crane. Nice! We also spent some time just lying around and looking at the darkening sky and eating apples. A relaxed night! Another entrance allowed us to drop a level. It went a fair way! I didn't try to take pictures in that part of the mine; I didn't have my tripod with me and the chambers were huge. But it was enjoyable.

The fallen-over crane

Some of the best sleepers I've ever seen underground

Pretty much everytime you see a spoil heap on the surface it's worth checking underground! Which means I still have a LOT to explore...

20 August 2016

Organising forams

It's not the first time this happens to me. One works on a project, you get students working on it too, and then you want to use their results but realise there is at least one issue with their identification. And then you have to do it all again. I should learn and be more involved in the counting; if you don't do it when they're actually doing the counting you run the risk of having to do it all again on your own, often with very little documentation of hat the student had doen in the firts place.

The previous time this happened, the student had at least sorted the forams to a certain degree. But now we had had two students who had been involved in the Laugharne fieldwork, during which we make them pick 100 specimens, and not sort them but just identify them. So that was what they were used to and that was what they did. They had just placed one or two forams on each of the 64 numbered rectangles on the microslides we use. As they both had tried to count to 300, they had many slides per sample, and there was no way of having an overview. And then I tried to make a type collection from the forams these students had picked. And then I saw we did not agree. If I went to a sample in which they claimed a certain species was abundant I often found few, and sometimes I found nice specimens of a species they claimed not to have. And they had only given us total counts; not count sheets with what they had called the specific foraminifera on the various rectangles, so we could not reconstruct what they had called what. A problem! What to do?

I discussed with James; he suggested we get external help in. I had been the one student's main taxonomy adviser, and our former colleague Anna had helped the other. So if Anna would pop by, we could make sure we agreed on everything. And she would! Which was good news; she is not only good with cold water forams, but she is also very nice. And she would be in town for unrelated business anyway. All good!

We first looked at the type slides; fortunately we tended to agree on taxonomy. Then we had a look at the students' samples. We started with organising one sample each of the one student and discussing what we called all the species. Then we went on to the next. And when we were at it we ended up reorganising them all. It's a bit of a chore; one of the samples had been spread out over five slides and sorting all that is a pain. But I'm learning! My arctic taxonomy has not been this good since I left Norway. And at least we now have thoroughly identified samples with proper documentation. And I think I have managed to convince James to at least make sure that our current students hand over documentation of their slides before they leave. Better to have them organise their slides, but well, count sheets is a start. But for now I'm having a trip down memory lane being neck deep in forams again!

The way the students left their slides

The way we leave them

18 August 2016

Visit by Sanja

About a week before my dad arrived I suddenly got the email from Sanja. She was sailing along the British west coast and figured she could pay me a visit. Talk about surprises! I wasn't sure if she would show up while my dad would still be there but I figured all would sort itself out. And it did.

For reasons of sailing (about which I don't know much) they kept to the west coast so they ended up in Ireland. No problem! There is a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, which Sanja said she'd take. From there she wanted to bike, but Anglesey was a bit larger than she initially thought. She'd arrive at 18:40 and it's a fair way. I suggested I load my tent onto my bike and ride her way. There is a very convenient bike route (route 8) all the way from Holyhead to pretty much my house, so it figured to find a place along the way. I thought something with a lake would be nice, and the only feasible lake was Llyn Coron. I had no idea what it was like, but I liked the nearby Aberffraw dunes. I just hoped the lake would be good too! I missed my local adviser David, who was away, and probably busy, so I didn't want to phone him. It would have to do.

I packed some random foodstuffs and two Welsh beers in addition to my tent and accoutrements, and started biking. It was a fair way! I got there about 19:15 and scouted the terrain. It wasn't exactly as I hoped; the lake was smelly and the creek leading into it was worse. That wasn't good! Swimming looked unlikely and drinking water was yet to be found. I walked along the path and luckily did find a small stream that looked good. A good tent spot was quickly found. I unloaded the bike and planted it at the entrance of the path; we hadn't made any clearer plans than "meeting in the NW corner of the lake", so I thought indicating the path would help. I then settled with a book. After a while I heard a thump! And that was Sanja leading her bike over the bump at the start of the path. Yay!

I showed her the tent spot and the water source. It was a bit muddy but would do. Then we pitched the tent and gathered the food (she had also brought random foodstuffs) and had a picnic, overlooking the lake in the fading light. It was great! As we had spoken Norwegian in Tromsø I wanted to speak that now too. Having mailed to and fro the past days had brought the language closer to the surface. So it worked! She forgave me for the occasional Welsh phrase that slipped out.

It turned out she was working for a consultance firm established by a chap who likes to go off on a boat for long periods herself, so she had taken a year off to sail from Tromsø to at least La Coruna. From there they'd see. She liked the job. It sounded great! And her boyfriend had also managed to take a year off. It sounded typically adventurous! So we discussed what our lives were like, and I was brought up to date regarding other Tromsø folk. It sounded like most were doing well!

Time flew and at some point we had to go to bed, which we did. I had, of course, not drunk enough, and I was sweaty which I very much dislike when going to bed, so I slept badly. Oh well! I woke up to a calm pink morning, crept out of the tent, and started making coffee. Then I called Sanja. Then we had breakfast.

Llyn Coron in the early morning

Our home for the night 

We then loaded up and biked home. It was a fair way! Once there it was time to enjoy some mod coms: tapwater, for instance. Some tea was in order! Sanja was keen to have a shower after three months on a boat. Then it was lunch time. And after that we walked into town; Sanja wanted to know what it was like. On the way back we came past a bench overlooking the strait. We sat down and just enjoyed the view. We were sleepy! We didn't do much more that day. We cooked and ate dinner and made plans for the next day; I had to go to work but Sanja would bike to the Ogwen Valley and climb Tryfan. I possibly would be climbing that next evening but I didn't know where yet. I'd just see!

When I got up in the morning the climbing mail was there. We'd be just beyond Tryfan; perfect! I wrote Sanja a note to say where exactly we would be and went to work. After work I drove to what I thought was the agreed place, found out it was the wrong place, found some others, drove to the correct place indicated by Eifion, texted Sanja where we would be, and then got ready for climbing. It was a beautiful day and the Ogwen Valley is stunning! And the climbing was good. But I was a bit restless. Would Sanja appear? That shows I still have a lot to learn. 

I wondered if she would have biked home anyway. I didn't want to be out climbing late while she was at my place! I don't get a guest like that every day. I told the others I was leaving, got my rope back, and walked to the car. Along the way I thought I saw a small figure on a bike. And it was Sanja! We caught up a bit but quickly plonked her bike in the boot of the car as we were plagued by midges. We went home, but there we needed to get some food. The four crosses didn't serve food anymore; neither did the Anglesey Arms, the Bridge or the Hide-out. We saw the Taste of India being open but they only did take-away at that our. Grudgingly they served us that, and then we could go home, eat, and go to bed. The next day Sanja would leave! The boat was waiting.

I biked her to the roundabout where route 8 signs started and said goodbye. I should make sure I go and visit her too one day soon!

Arty goodbye pic with lots of shadows

And a less ary one in which we are actually recognisable

16 August 2016

Blast from the past

I grew up in a boring part of the Netherlands. The most exciting place in the far surroundings was the local library. When I was seventeen, I moved to Amsterdam; quite an exciting place, but in, of course, an urban way. Then I moved to Arctic Norway. And then things changed. Suddenly life was full of outdoor adventures and other very un-Dutch things. Quite the culture shock! But a good one. I learned to speak Norwegian, drive, ski, climb and sea kayak. Live in a society where very every second person you meet has overwintered on Antarctica, traversed the whole of Svalbard on ski, done fieldwork on the remotest places on Earth (such as Bouvetøya) and feels more at home on a windy Arctic mountain peak in the dark than in a shopping street.

As you'd expect in a place like that, I met amazing people to do these things with. One was Sanja. I don't have many friends with whom I have done so many things I never imagined doing when I grew up. Like fishing in a Norwegian fjord, in a creaking old wooden rowing boat. Kayakking at night, under the northern lights. Doing a multi-day ski hike in Finnish Lapland, in December (during which I unfortunately almost killed myself but got away with only sinusitis). Making an enormous heap of reindeer liver pate. Going kayakking in Svalbard fjord.

Sanja having fun in a Svalbard fjord (July 2009)

The last time I saw her she came visiting me in Plymouth. I've not visited back! I'm a bit hopeless with staying in touch with people. It's hard enough keeping my ties with my family and old Dutch friends. But she was in the vicinity again (she suddenly mailed me she was at Cape Wrath, about to sail down the British coast, near to which I live) so she thought to pop by. Great!

The time since Plymouth I have made a concerted effort to be more like here. Actually, that concerted effort started in Tromsø, but I am a slow learner and only now I start to notice I'm actually making progress. So what is being like Sanja? Not worrying, not wasting energy on making a fuss over things you can't change anyway, not being a control freak, seizing opportunities, being hospitable (hmm, more work to do there) and making do with what you have. If everyone did that! And I'm far from there; I noticed I am not worrying about the future even though my contract ends in 3.5 months, the world economy is struggling and the UK has dived head-first into Brexit misery. I'll manage! But I am still a bit of a control freak in other aspects (you should se eme pack for a trip) and I am still too obsessed with work to seize all opportunities I could. Although going to Greenland last year was clearly a Sanja-style event. Although she would probably have sailed there, did her own thing, befriended the local population and caught her own dinner. Rather than joining a mountain guide-lead group! But I'm still young. I have time to learn more!

13 August 2016

Living alone

In November 1998 I moved into an apartment of my own. I had lived in student accommodation, with shared kitchen and bathroom, for a few years. I had lived alone for a few months before that, but from that autumn now 18 years ago I lived on my own without interruption. (I don't count things such as holidays and scientific cruises in this; that's not at home.) And I can tell!

I notice it too on the annual fieldwork in Laugharne; it's actually quite nice to share a (loose) household with lots of other staff members.  We live in some four different holiday cottages but have dinner together. That's not too confrontational, though, as you do your own thing all day and only share meals. But I do get cranky if either people get between me and the kettle in the morning (must have my coffee! Now!) or if dinner is served so late I can't go to bed at a reasonable time. Or if I wake up and want to go to the toilet but someone else is in there.

I might have had visitors at my place for an entire week before, but it's not a common occurrence. I can't remember the last time. I think it went well! But I could tell I am very used to getting up when I want to, going to bed when I want to, using the entire house, eating and drinking exactly what I want to, putting things where I want them, etc etc etc. If I ever want to share a household with somebody else I think I need a bit of a period of adaptation...

The whole couch is mine! And so is the rest of the house! 

Typical that while saying all that I also have to announce the next guest. On Thursday the previous ones left, and on Saturday I'll meet the next one. And not just any! But stay tuned for more on that! 

11 August 2016

Family walks

My father and his wife have left the building. They have been here for a week. A long time! But they are on their way hoime now. It has been a good visit!

The first day we walked around where I live. It was nice weather and they apporeciated the varied lanscape with copses, rolling hills, grazing sheep, and not-so-pretty villages. And the two magnificent bridges! But I see that environment every day and even though it wa sonly the first day, I got restless. The next day I dropped them off in Pentraeth, upon which they walked back, but I went to the office. Stuff to do! And I am spoiled; I can't be asked spending an entire day walking in a environment that for me is that common. A good day was had by all! When I came home with the shopping on my back they were sitting in the garden, in the sun, with a bottle of wine open and a glass for me already waiting.

For the next day I proposed a walk near Beddgelert; I drive past there an awful lot, always notice how beautiful it is, and never actually going there, so I thought this would be the day to do something about it. And we did! The weather was nice, and we started a nice walk along the river. We then turned inland in a nice narrow valley, with an amazing aerial ropeway still partially in it. It had been a copper mining area. It was great!

Pretty riverside view in Beddgelert

Coffee at the riverbank

 Approaching the top of the walk

On the other side we walked down to Llyn Dinas. There Joke wanted to go for a swim. A great idea! The water was lovely. We had considered adding an extra loop to our walk, but we also wanted to go for ice cream in Beddgelert too, and be home in time for a shower, grocery shopping and getting to the Bridge Inn in time for dinner, so we canned that. And did what we had intended! Of course we also popped by the station of the Welsh Highland railway. He loves his trains, and this railway had been reinstated so recent that he hadn't seen it in action. But no train came... and one had passed us on the way but due to it being on a bank steeply above us we had barely seen more than its steam. Oh dear!

We drove home via the other way, so they had seen Peris Pass too. And the food in the pub was great!

The next day we would set off on a two day hike. The idea had been a three day one, but most accommodation in Snowdonia was fully booked by now. Wim and Joke had struggled to plan a route without having been to this area before, and I did not want to make presumptions on what level of difficulty they would want their hikes to have, or what level of comfort they wanted for their overnight stays. We would sort it out in my kitchen. Possibilities were limited; we found a bunkhouse in Penmachno, which I thought was spiffing, because I know that valley is beautiful. We didn't find much else, so it would be a two day walk. We decided we would drive to Blaenau Ffestiniog, drop the car, walk to Penmachno, sleep there, and the next day walk to either Dolwyddelan or Roman Bridge and take the train from there. So we set off!

It wasn't such good weather, and we struggled a bit to find the start of the path. It hadn't clicked with me it was the same path we would use to get to some of our mines. It was nice to do it in hiking clothes this time! It was a bit windy, cold and damp, but not too bad, and the landscape looked good under the circumstances.

The grim landscpae above Blaenau Ffestiniog

We walked up the slope until we reached the old tramway going east; we would follow it all the way to Rhiwbach mine. The walking was flat and the route very clear, but the track was a veritable swamp and we had to do all sorts of antics to not swamp our boots. We had lunch in what probably had been the sawing mill of Rhiwbach. From there we walked through the wood, and tried to approach Penmachno via the SE flank of the valley. We abandoned that idea when the path on the map crossed the river on a dam, but the dam turning out to be breached. Forget it! We'll take the standard route. And then veer off to the left, approaching Penmachno from the NW. That worked well! The map was impeccable and at 5.30 or something we reached the lovely bunkhouse.

 Cup of tea in the woods

We knew the bunkhouse did not serve foor that day, so we had brought ingredients for pasta, and a bottle of wine. We had a nice and calm evening there! And we had a room to ourselves. Wim and I had a walk on the village; that doesn't take much. It is a cute village but not very prosperous. 

The next day we walked to Dolwyddelan. The route was clear, but the path very, very wet. It started with the occasional overtopped boot and ended with all of us eneding up with water up to all our calves. Not ideal! But what can one do. We were glad to reach the village. The sun also came out!

We knew a train would leave Roman Bridge at 17:12. But we were so ealry, we might be able to catch the earlier train of which we didn't know exactly when it would leave. We thought we'd see and hear the train coming from quite a distance. I didn't quite trust it, though, so when the station was near I started running to see what I could find out. A wise idea! The train spontaneously appeared out of nowhere and approached the station at full speed. The driver saw me, though, and slammed the brakes. We got it! That was lucky! Soon we were back at the car. We went for a coffee in Betws-y-Coed and then went home.

Walking up the hill past Dolwyddelan Castle

The next day we parted ways again; I went to the office (and had a very productive day!) while Wim and Joke walked back from Penmon. And then there was one day left; we did some Anglesey coastal path. We dropped the car at Traeth Bychan and walked along the coast to Traeth Dulas. We then went inland to Mynydd Bodafon, from which we intended to walk to Din Lligwy. That went terribly wrong, though! We had to walk a short distance along the main road and turn off on a forest track. I went ahead; after a while I came to a locked gate. Would this be our turn? I decided to go for a leak while Wim (who had the map) approached. He shot past, so I figured this wasn't it. When I caught up with him it turned out he had just walked past without checking. Oh dear! It had been our turn. But by this time, Joke was far ahead, out of earshot. We had little choice but to just continue along this very unpleasant road. It was raining too! An unpleasant end of our last walk. We went back to the car via the shortest route. We had walked 6 km on uninterrupted asphalt of which half along the busy road. Not good!

We went home, had a shower, and ended the trip in the Anglesey Arms for dinner. The visit was coming to an end! The next morning I just went to work after breakfast. As the next guest might arrive the very same day Wim and Joke offered to tidy up the house, after which they would first explore Bangor and then Manchester. And then go home! End of a long visit. 

I noticed I struggle a bit to not be a one person household; normally, everything goes exactly my way, all is exactly where I put it, all rooms are at my disposal at all times, etcetera. But I managed! And they are very good guests. 

I'll see them next time in the Netherlands. It was good to have some extended time together; when I am in the Netherlands there are always so many people to see I feel I am short-changing absolutely everybody. But they came here to only see me. And they did!

09 August 2016

Family visit

My father and his wife love walking. North Wales is a great place for walking. I don't know how much longer I'll live here. So altogether, it made sense they'd come visit me. And they did!

They'll stay for a full week. The plan is to do a three day walk in the middle of that week. I hope we'll manage; three days require two nights of accommodation, and Snowdonia in the middle of summer is a rather fully booked place. We'll see! And the rest of the time we can do day trips. And sometimes it will be only them doing the day trip. I'm not so good at not going to work, maybe a full week is a bit much to keep the conversation going, and some of the places where they want to walk are a bit done and dusted for me. So I think we're managing to strike a nice balance. This is family summer!

A  cat who likes railways in Llanfairpwll

05 August 2016

Clean the house and the head

I am a creature of habits. I like having a standard morning run route; when I roll out of my bed in the morning I don't want to have to think about where I go. I've been eating the same breakfast every day for years, and every day I look forward to it. Things like that do not mean I'm stuck in a rut; my life just won't allow that, but within the greater storminess of life I like some habits that stay the same. And if they're very useful habits such as going for a run every second day or doing my arm- and core strength exercises every day, it's nice if they're part of the pattern and I and up pretty automatically doing them, rather than having to convince myself to do it every single time.

I got into the pattern now of evaluating my possessions. The start that was made with the vacuum cleaner has persisted! I now regularly plonk things on eBay, and bring them to the local charity shop if they don't sell. Clothes fairly often go to the roadside if at an opportune moment an opportune charity announces a collection them. And that's only been going for a short time (a lot less than the rule-of-thumb period of 66 days) but it's rather addictive, and I think it'll last.

Then I realised I had accidentally changed another habit. Or rather, lost one. I suppose refraining from doing things is as much a habit as doing them. I suddenly realised I hadn't watched any television for a fair while. I'm not sure how long. Only a few weeks I think! But it suits me. I think I'll keep that going. Clearly, the habit of checking whether anything interesting is on has died. And I have no way of being sure it'll last but I think it will, and I think that's alright. It's not all good; a few months ago I realised there had been a short series by my TV hero Dan Cruickshank, and I'd missed it. I like his programmes! But it's a modest sacrifice. I have stuff to do!

My TV, still having a central place in the cupboard, but for how much longer?

03 August 2016

Practicing blowing things up

We didn't have Mick with us for a fair number of Thursday nights; he was busy doing the build-up for the Farnborough Air Show. Soon he would be off to the Cropredy Fairport Convention festival to do the same. One Thursday in between we would have him with us!  We wanted to have a bit of a calm night during which we could catch up. We also wanted to try out some hilti caps (they are essentially blanks) which we could use for dealing with unyielding big rocks in our dig. No reason why these can't be combined! So we headed for Pen y Ffridd as it was nicely accessible, had a fireplace, and had plenty of rocks we could split.

There weren't many of us. We loaded our bags up with the drill and all other necessities, and a frying pan, buns and bacon for some traditional undergroundy food, and started walking. Soon we were at the spot and had a fire going. We started with some bacon bap eating!

 Approaching the entrance

David starts a fire

After a while we went for a stroll; Mick hadn't seen this mine yet, and neither had Chris. We walked all the way down and then back up. Time for some marshmallows (for others) and then some blowing up of stuff. I spotted some suitable rocks. Then David couldn't find his firing pin so it looked like the exercise was off. He then found it near the frying pan and we were back on track. Mick drilled the holes. David did the first round; one hilti cap, which resulted in a crack in the rock. Then I did the second, with two; that shot a corner of the rock clean off. Nice work! I thought I'd never used two before, but looking it up on the blog shows I was wrong. I had used two the only time I had done this before. This time we must have had weaker rock! It was nicely spectacular. And more comfortable; we were in a huge chamber so there was plenty of space to swing a hammer.

The drill hole and the new rock face we created

Then it was time to go home. We will see Mick again in September! And before that time we may use our hilti skills on our dig...

02 August 2016

Crawl a cave for archaeologists

The SEACAMS people not only have a recently opened building; they also have snazzy equipment, and friends and connections. So when one of their archaeological connections asked them to use their cutting edge laser scanner to scan a cave in which neolithic human remains had been found, they not only said yes, but also opened a can of cave-familiar friends. Or in other words, when Guy was asked to do the scan he asked David and me to join him. And we did! David was needed for underground photography; the laser scanner normally takes pictures to inform it of what it has scanned, but in a dark space it can't. And I was invited as there was a narrow passage they wished to have explored. So off we went!

We drove to Trelawnyd, near Prestatyn, where the cave (Gop Hill Cave) was. It was part of a famous ensemble of cave and cairn; the cairn seemed to be the second biggest in the UK. We met the lady on whose land the cave was; she was very nice. Then we started to get ready.

The Landrover got the kit close to the entrance. The view was nice!

Guy and his mate Steve got the scanner out, and the targets that come with it which help with stitching various scans together. David and I changed into our caving suits. Soon we were all ready!

The cave entrance and the scanner. The white balls are targets

I had a look in the main chamber; that was rather small. Then I went into the narrow passage; it was narrow indeed! Guy had said it was unexplored, but I figured that was unlikely given the fame of the place and its accessibility. And indeed; there were signs of human entry all the way until it got so narrow no adult human could go any further. I tried to take some pictures in the narrow space and that was my day done. I had offered to also be lighting assistant to David so I didn't change yet. I decided to have a coffee in the sun and read an article to pass the time both pleasantly and usefully.

David turned out to not need me with light, but he realised he hadn't brought a macro lens, and there were nice crinoids in the walls and ceiling of the cave. I took it upon myself to try and document them with my compact camera. When that was done I changed and had some tea. The I got sleepy and decided to try to have a nap in the sun. I hadn't been quite healthy for a while and this was a good opportunity to try and recharge the battery.

Crinoids and funny mud patterns on the cave wall

David taking photographs 

The next thing on the schedule was flying David's drone over the cairn and the cave. We went up to the top of the cairn as it seemed a nice launching spot. It flew around merrily! And the farmer came back to have a look, this time with a baby on her back and a dog by her side. She knew a lot about the place (of course)! And the dog was very keen on fetching sticks. I tend to be perfectly happy to oblige. Very pleasant altogether! But then our job was done. We waited for Guy and Steve to be done (which involved a bit more reading and then it was time to go home. 

David getting ready for drone flying

The dog's intense stare

I suppose soon Guy will be able to show us the 3D image. Exciting! The result of a shamelessly relaxed day...

01 August 2016

Drawing sand

The project is coming to its end. We're getting ready to write up. Interesting, you may say; well, wait, as this is only the preparation. And we decided we should document all the cores we took. So far I'd only been plotting the good ones but now I have the task of also plotting those that had nothing of our interest in them. Not very exciting! But one can listen to the radio while doing it, and that helps. And then later the excitement can start, when we write up what it all means...