31 March 2017

Bangor nightlife

There aren't many pubs on this blog anymore. They don't feature in my life very much at all. Sometimes I go when there is a special occasion. And I have my weekly meet-up with Jenny in the Anglesey Arms. That's sort of it. I have different priorities now!

When on Friday I walked to the bike shop I heard my name. Some of my 4th year students were walking on the other side of the street. They said they were going to the pub; did I care to join? I pointed out I had to get to the bike shop first but might join them later.

I got the bike back, dumped it in the boot of the car, and scampered back to the pub. I found the students and ordered a half pint. I was driving, after all.

It was quite nice! They are a good bunch. They were busy sorting out a trip to Southampton for a conference. After my confrontation with students over a year ago I was a bit skittish; this cohort, actually, was the same as the one with which I had that problem. I also had marked an assignment of these students a short while ago; I sat next to a chap for a while who I had failed. But the atmosphere was very amicable! I suppose the students with which I had an issue was just a small subset (most kept themselves anonymous and in the wings) and I should not be scared of students in general due to such experiences.

I did feel the age gap a bit; one of the students started to recommend lots of pubs and festivals and whatnots to me, all involving alcohol and late nights. That's not my life anymore! It was well-intended but I don't think I'll act on his advice.

As I could only have a half pint I didn't stay long. It was very nice, though! I hope they have a great time in Southampton!

30 March 2017

Brexit meeting

Universities are international places. Bangor University is no exception. Quite a lot of the foreigners around are from the EU. In Ocean Sciences alone we have four Dutch people, one Belgian, a Swede, a Dane, a Spaniard and an Italian (and that's only those who immediately spring to mind). We also have several Brits in relationships with EU nationals. And with article 50 being invoked it's time to prepare. The University organised a Brexit meeting for those interested.

I went. There was a lady from Social Sciences who specified what the EU had done for Wales (a lot). Then a man from the same school showed some results from a study into who had voted what. Funnily enough, fluent Welsh-speakers had overwhelmingly voted remain. Are they comfortable enough in their culture to not feel threatened by Europe?

The next speakers were lawyers who went into some detail on what the Brexit options are and what that means for universities, and for funding, and foreign staff and students. It was very interesting! I also spoke with another Dutch woman from Ocean Sciences who had already started the process of applying for permanent residency. I think I should follow suit. The lawyers suggested all who do that should ask for professional assistance as if such a process goes wrong the consequences can be unpleasant. I never really thought I'd have to do something like that. Life is unpredictable! But one manages...

29 March 2017

Dig comes to a slowdown

The time had come to start tackling the next chapter of the dig! I had reached the next chamber on, chamber X, weeks ago. The week after I had tried and failed to make the access route safer and easier. Then the week after that I had managed, but only at the end of the night. I had only had a casual look beyond, and Miles hadn't been through at all yet. It was time that changed!

Miles had announced on the forum he had hurt his arm. I figured he would not let that stop him. It did stop him going in early; there is no point being in there on your own if you can't do any work. When David and I got to the parking lot early I decided to not wait and go up. I saw big wet footsteps leading to the adit; Miles wasn't very far ahead! And indeed; when I got to Generator Chamber I saw an unusual light. Miles was in there putting his boots on. We could go in together!

We went straight to the end. Along the way I did look a bit skeptically at some slabs in the ceiling that wouldn't stay up forever; they would do for now, though. I went through and set up my tripod in the deep cold water while Miles had his first good look. I then joined him, which meant wading through the groin-deep water. We started prodding away at the collapse. It wasn't looking good. Miles figured it was just the level having collapsed. But that could be a bit of a challenge!

We prodded away at it for a while. We managed to removed quite some rock, but there isn't an awful lot of space to put it. This would only get worse. Miles was using his arm, of course. And we had music; Miles had brought his phone.

After a fair while we sat down for a break. We had coffee and tea but the chocolates were in the previous chamber! That was bad planning. One makes do, though. During our break we saw a light: it was Jay visiting. He hadn't been in our dig for a while! He didn't want to get into the water (he gets cold easily) but he was impressed by the progress we had made since the last time he had come to have a look.

 The collapse, photographed with a dirty lens (oh dear)

After the coffee we went back; I wanted to blow up the ceiling slabs. While I was coming out I saw another visitor approaching. It was Jason. He watched Miles negotiate the passage which is still far from Miles' preferred dimensions, and then I introduced the men. I let them do the chatting while I focussed my attention to the drill. Drilling was my job because of Miles' arm, and I was glad for it; I was very cold after having waded through the cold water. Miles was still dry due to his funky boots. The drilling did me good! But while I was charging the drill holes Miles announced he had to leave. We said goodbye and I finished the charging. Then I had a chat with Jason while the resin set. Jason wanted to witness the blasting. When that had happened we had a little look at the result, but then we headed out. I was very cold and it was getting a bit late too.

When we came to Generator Chamber we found Jay, who was keen to go out as well. Before we knew it David and Don appeared too. Good timing! We went up. Jason offered me his jacket as I was shivering. That helped! I felt much better pretty much instantly. While we were waiting for the last people to come up the pitch Paul and Sharon appeared; the latter was fairly new to us. I trust she will have a look in our digs some day soon. It's never happened before that the people elsewhere in the mine felt the need to come get us!

Next week Miles can't be in the dig, and I'm sure the Dig 1 people will be elsewhere too, so no digging at all will happen. Too bad! But I'm sure we'll be back after that! We will have to see how our dig goes, and decide it it's feasible. If we can't go through this collapse we will have to dig upwards through one of the earlier chambers to have a go at the next level up. Even if we have to give up one attempt we are not defeated!

28 March 2017

Talking to the parents

As lecturing staff you're supposed to do your bit for recruitment. The school has regular open days. I had worked on these before, as research staff; then you can be asked to do some science demonstration. This time I was supposed to talk to parents of prospective students to answer questions. I wasn't sure how I'd fare; I was educated in a completely different system, and I do know about the programmes I teach on, but I don't normally have anything to do with things such as what various programmes we offer, what the requirements are, how much freedom there is, if any special kit is needed, etc. I did my best, though! I even found a parent of a student who wanted to do my kind of stuff. Most of them are on the road to marine biology.

My job runs out before the new cohort arrives but we'll see. I hope I made a positive contribution...

27 March 2017

Student beach trip

For the Earth, Climate and Evolution module I teach on, the students go into the field twice. They are short trips; they are picked up in Bangor at 9AM and are delivered back at noon. In between we have to drive to the starting point, brief them, do the trip, and get them back to the buses. That leaves little time! But they are still nice trips. This year the Cwm Idwal trip was blessed by amazing weather; the Red Wharf Bay trip would not be THAT good but at least there was no rain forecast.

In Red Wharf Bay we show the students the very old rocks of central Snowdonia (Cambrian to Silurian) and the volcanics rocks associated by subduction. In Red Wharf Bay we show them the slightly later rocks, from when the continents had stopped colliding and the rocks deposited were mainly shallow water carbonates. We have to fill in some geological periods from which there are no sediments in that bay. In red Wharf Bay this shows itself as glacial sediments from the last glaciation lying directly onto Carboniferous limestone. A gap of 360 million years!

My students were rather keen. When there was some time to spare some eagerly started to collect nice rocks, shells and gastropods. I failed to find a nice crinoid for one of them. And the sun came out about halfway into the trip! It was a nice morning out!

 One of the other groups on the carbonate platform

That same group admiring something from a distance

26 March 2017

Back to Beacon

The climbing club I am a member of, like most climbing clubs, climbs indoors in winter. We tend to go to the local climbing wall: Indy, three Monday evenings a month. The fourth Monday is for the bigger one in Caernarfon: Beacon. I had not been for a while; Beacon is further away and more expensive, so when you get there you want to do a proper evening of climbing. Work sometimes doesn't leave me enough time to make that work. I had bailed out a few times! But I had been the previous month, and had a good time. I had done some suitably challenging routes. And Beacon has more where that came from; the place really is big. This time I went again!

I started trying a route that wasn't classified as very hard with Eifion. He couldn't do it. Then I tried: it was hard indeed! It had a nasty overhangy bit that was hard to get past. Eifion kept the rope tight (we were on top rope) and with that slight bit of cheating I managed in the end, but my arms were properly pumped.

I then tried the wood route. Normally grips are made of some modern material, but Beacon has a route with only wood blocks and slats and such. I had been eyeing it since the first time I went to Beacon! Now I finally tried it. I couldn't get to the very top hold without a bit of help from my belayer but now I've tried it! It was fun. And hard work, again. My arms were so pumped they were lumpy.

I did a few slightly more easy routes but then Catrin, who I was climbing with, suggested going to the part of the hall with the highest ceilings. There she climbed a 4c, but that sounded a bit too dull. There was a 6a in the same place; I decided to try and lead that. It started OK, but I got to one point from which I really couldn't see a way on. I chickened out and swapped to the 4c.

When the rope was up, Catrin and Ika tried to climb the 6a on top rope. Neither could do it! The I  tried and neither could I. How have I ever tried to lead it? But by then my arms were done for the day. Time to go home! But it's nice to get to Beacon again once in a while. Although hopefully we will be climbing outdoors again soon! That would make anyone forget Beacon. Until next winter!

Ika and Catrin (left) getting ready to try the 6a

24 March 2017

General knowledge

There is a lull in my lecturing. What I now spend most of my time on is general stuff; teaching students writing and presenting skills, and marking things such as essays about rather widely varying topics. It's great! That brings you into contact with articles you never would read otherwise. I read stuff on the formation of the moon, on why the Antarctic has such a strange distribution of species over the range of water depths, and whatnot. I'm having a blast!

Having tutees is also great. I noticed some of them struggle to stand up for their opinions. If you ask them why they did something or how they would do it, they might hide behind their hand and say they don't know. I decided to try to give them some practice; I made up some statements about life in general and university life in particular, and had them argue for and against it against each other. That was great! It was lovely to see the dynamics and because of that already worthwhile, but I think it's good to work on one's general life skills as a student. I might still be working on that myself all these years later, but that is more an argument in favour than against.

Soon I will be lecturing again, but for now I'm enjoying this!

 The moon. Pic by G.H. Revera (from Wikipedia)

22 March 2017

Back to where we were before

Last week I had been disappointed to not manage to get to the far end of the dig, as I had the week before that. The infamous door-shaped slab was still stubbornly in the way! It was a bit of a pain to try to get rid of it. I thought there were things leaning against it, so I didn't want to be there when it would shatter or fall over. I also preferred to stay out of the way while drilling. Drilling means vibrations, vibrations can bring stuff down! But this week I would have another try. It was me on my own; the others were elsewhere.

When I got to the generator chamber I filled up the generator of which the tank was only half full. Beyond I found some dig-related items neatly displayed on a rock, with a little arrow pointing into the dig. Aha, a message from the other side! I packed the items in my bag and went through the chambers we had already broken through to the working end.

I found Miles having already drilled several holes much further out; he was more on a mission to make the passage wider than making it reach further. As usual. We charged the holes up and blew them, doing a bit of causeway work while waiting for the resin to set. I had managed to get though the level as good as dry! But properly dry is even better.

We had quite a lot of rock to clear after blasting. We sorted it, and still had time for an attack on the Door. I decided I could risk getting a bit closer to it while drilling than before, which made it more comfortable. Or rather, less uncomfortable. And Miles had made an extra short charge! That would come in handy, as it was wildly difficult to drill deep enough holes for a classic charge in that rock. But with some effort I just managed, and one of my previous attempts was deep enough for the short charge. Time to give it a try!

Spot the six holes in the rock

After blasting I  saw to my dismay it was still standing. But it moved! And it seemed it was not supporting any of the other rocks! So I banged it with a crowbar, kicked it, shoved it, rattled it, and finally managed to topple it over. It was still a bit in the way so I shoved and pushed a bit more until I had shoved it properly out of the way. Success! There was another vertical slab, but that one was also standing free, and I could now topple that over too. The way was clear! Success!

 The view back into the passage! Notice Miles' light on the other side.

I tried to convince Miles to come through and have a look, but he decided he wouldn't. It was almost time for him to go home and he feared he would get carried away if he would come through. We will leave that for next week!

21 March 2017

Lovely morning in the field

It can be trying to be the module leader on a module that involves all kinds of activities, especially if they involve other people and off-campus places. If you're the dean, you might get distracted from  such matters. Our dean is module leader on the module I have been teaching on most years since I came here; it involves a practical and two field trips too. He asked me a few days if I was available for the practical. He also asked me if I knew anyone who could help with our annual trip to Cwm Idwal; he was short on staff. I subtly told him he hadn't actually asked me if I would be on that trip myself and that I wasn't registered to join. Oh well.

That day I got up and realised it was gorgeous weather. Great! I biked to the mainland where the students would be picked up by buses. I joined my colleague Lynda and got onto a bus. At the start of the trip we would meet Colin, the module leader (and dean).

He hadn't joked he was short on staff. We had 79 students and three members of teaching staff! We had two technicians with us to act as first aiders, so it could be worse, but still, each of us trip leaders had more than twenty students. That was quite a different kettle of fish compared to the five I had had the previous time...

I peeled of with my share of students and brought them to a hillock with an amazing view. From there you look into Cwm Idwal itself, and Nant Ffrancon, and Dyffryn Ogwen. I did a lot of the talking there; about the geology, the history of science performed here, and some of the glaciology.

I made sure I did all the talking (also about soils, botany, and a bit more about glaciology) on the sunny side of the valley. I wasn't wearing a coat, but I was wearing sunglasses! Lovely! And with the weather being like that the students were in a lovely mood as well. A good day!

I got back at the buses with only a few minutes to spare. The other two groups were late. Typical! But we loaded the students up again and set off, arriving back in Bangor just in time. Next week we'll do the beach trip again! Chances we'll have equivalently great weather are slim, but you never know...

Briefing the students at the beginning

Walking onto the hillock with the good view

Another group in the distance

20 March 2017

Spring dinner on a hill

On Tuesday I had to lecture until 4PM. I had Welsh class from 6.30, as usual. I didn't feel like biking back to Anglesey for that short time, so I went to the library to do some work there. But I also had to eat my sandwiches before Welsh class; in the 2.5 hour class we only get a 5 minute break, and by the time I get home it's 9.30. And it happened to be a lovely day! From many university buildings you can see the hill that looms over Bangor on the southeastern side: Bangor Mountain. It is largely undeveloped; just trees and shrubs and such. I decided to walk up it to have my sarnies. When I had eaten them I also walked a bit further to admire the view in the other direction; away from Bangor. Even better! What a good idea altogether. It's only a few minutes but you are away from everything and the views are amazing. Silly I had never been there before!

 Among the gorse you can see the benches of which I chose one as my dinner seat

 The view towards the southeast

19 March 2017

Climb smarter

The climbing club had organised a workshop by a clinical psychologist specialised in climbing. They exist! I am fascinated by how people let their heads push them to great heights or great depths and all such things, so I registered.

The lady, called Rebecca, first did an introduction round; people told her what they struggled with and wanted to work on. Quite a lot of people struggled with motivating themselves to try routes they found hard; these tended to get frustrated about the lack of progress they made. I was in another category; I am scared of climbing above gear if the climbing is challenging. I have no problem with leading as long as I don't think I'll fall out of the wall. That does mean, though, that I tend to mostly lead climbs I can do without difficulty. If I lead something hard I often will give up (ask the belayer to let me down) or bail out (decide to swap to an easier route on the same stretch of wall). Sometimes I get scared, climb back down to where I feel safe, and then need to gather new courage to try again. Sometimes I push on, so I know I can do it, but I know this is what I struggle with most. Struggle, as it may be a rational fear (falling is to be avoided) but I also know the rope will catch me. On a scary route outside with few anchors and scary ledges you can fall onto, it's a different matter; in a climbing hall, though, falling is not likely to hurt you. Unless something goes wrong with belaying...

Another thing I find scary is climbing sideways; there is a specific route you can do with the autobelay machine, but it veers sideways considerably. If you get up halfway that route or further, and you fall out, you swing considerably. I don't like that!

Anyway. We finished the introduction round, and then Rebecca told us that if you get scared your body gets into fight or flight response and that rarely helps. Your muscles cramp and you palms sweat. Not helping! So she suggested that if we get into a situation like that we consciously get our breathing back to normal and relax our muscles. That will sort us out. She also warned us against challenging ourselves, but overdoing it, so we end up extra stressed and are more anxious the next time we try whatever it was that challenged us. And she had us practice focussing on our breathing (I'm terrible at it) and tensioning and then relaxing our muscles.

None of that is rocket science. Pretty much all of that I know. Oh well! At least we now know what people's weak spots are and take it into consideration. I thought it was interesting to see that one of the blokes who always makes me climb the hardest, Ron, is as scared of climbing above gear as I am...

Then it was time to practice. I was one of the few who was already wearing climbing shoes, and who isn't keen on warming up. I decided to try the swingy green route first. I climbed a fair distance up and dropped myself. That went well! Then I tried a bit higher. Still OK! By then others were ready to climb as well.

I ended up teaming up with Glyn, with whom I climb more often. We started on a fairly easy route (no probs) and then did the 6c I had managed before. I try it regularly, and depending on what kind of day I have I either can or can't do it. This time I could! I needed one encouragement from Glyn and that was it. Good stuff!

We then did a 5b on an overhang; that was quite easy. Glyn then saw a 6 something (b?) on a much more overhangy overhang and wanted to try that, even though he thought he would fall out. This was the perfect day for it!

He went up the very overhangy bit groaning. He was almost at the edge where it gets a lot milder but he didn't quite make it; he came falling out. And he is a sizable chap. I shot up! I wasn't that far off banging my head into the overhang. Maybe next time clip in to a sand bag...

By then it was late and we all left. I might give that route a try next time! And I suppose I should climb that swingy route all the way to the top... home-made exposure therapy, here I come!

PGCertHE submitted

In January already I had finished my PGCertHE portfolio as far as I could finish it myself. I still needed a letter from James! And he is busy.

On the Friday before the Monday deadline I received the letter, fit it into the portfolio, and sent it to the lady in charge of the PGCertHE pathway, Peggy. Normally you would upload it onto the university website, but as soon as my new job started I lost access to that. I had phoned around to see who could reinstate me; IT services? Peggy? I had got nowhere but Peggy had said I could just mail it to her and all would be well. I did as advised.

That Monday I phoned her to see if all was well. She had received it, but now, on the day of the deadline, she told me she wasn't sure if I was actually registered on the programme. She gave me the name of a lady to contact: Delyth. She didn't answer the phone. Not that day, not the next, not in a long time.

I now feel a bit in limbo. I have submitted, but is that enough? I have tried to contact Delyth by mail and by phone and she is not budging. I hope this can be sorted! I want that qualification!

18 March 2017

Moel Fferna

If you don't have to work during the weekends, you might as well go underground. Our normally rather inert Paul had woken up and suggested a trip to Moel Fferna, a mine I had only been in once; quite recently, with the PCG. It merited another visit! And not only would we have another look at this mine; two of our men who are notoriously busy suggested going for a curry afterwards. They couldn't join us for the trip but they could gather in a nearby curry house.

As it was a Paul trip we didn't gather all too early. We got to the meeting place and found Ali there; he had Moel Fferna as his pet mine so he swould show us around. Seconds later a chap known as Lazy Jason arrived; we already have two Jasons so we'll stick to the full moniker. He had been joining us a few times but his punctuality (or lack thereof) and my impatience had meant I had always already vanished into the dig by the time he arrived.

We drove up and changed. When we got to the entrance pitch we recognised something; we had seen a trip report on internet from some people who were rather infamous in mine exploration circles; the guys had a disregard for safety that shocks even me (they would go underground without hardhats - I wouldn't dream of that) and they were infamous litterers. They weren't very polite either. We recognised their homemade electron ladder in the entrance pitch; it didn't look all too safe. I am quite resigned about such things but the men figured this was a downright menace and a hazard to any passing youngsters with a sense of adventure who would potentially be tempted by this ready-rigged entrance pitch, not being able perhaps to assess the safety of the set-up. David untied the thing and with combined forces we hauled it up and out. We would use our own rope!

We got in and took our SRT kit off. Time to explore! We took our time at the various sights around, such as a hand pump, a manual winch, and some graffiti. David took pictures. With a handful of us he could light up the rather large spaces. It was nice!

Pics by David

When we got to the Cog we sat down for lunch. I also went for a leak (I had quite some coffee and tea with me), and that brought me to the manway I had explored (to a certain extent) with the PCG. After lunch Ali showed us where that manway came out; we could have gone through! We went in another direction though, an explored some bits that evenAli had not seen, I think. There was some scampering and getting muddy and losing Paul, but in the end we all came up to the original level again. I was glad; it was time to come out! We still had a dinner to do. And I didn't want to be home late; I hate it to start the week already unprepared and tired. It gets bad enough on Monday!

I tried to get the men to be executive and finally we were on the road again. When we had signal we saw that Phil and Simon, our dinner companions, had already decided on a venue. They wouldn't wait for us! David, who was driving, put his foot down and we managed to get to the restaurant only a few minutes after them. Briony was there too. It was good to see them! I hadn't seen Phil in ages. He had been moving house. Altogether it was 10PM when we left. Too late! but at least it had been a good day. And David's pics would turn out magnificent!

17 March 2017

Do-it-yourself medical intervention

When I had my wrist stitched up I mentioned to the lady who was doing the stitching I thought it'd be nice to take them out myself when the time had come. She disagreed; she said you needed sterile scissors for it, which I was not likely to have. True! It still seemed silly, though, to go and bother the NHS with my puny three stitches; they have better things to do.

I had had surgery once (before the blog), and I had four stitches in the wound, if I remember correctly, the physician who took them out did the first one himself and let me do the rest. There's not much to it! In spite of the advice I was given I was still tempted. I later asked a medical person in Welsh class if my GP would even know I had stitches; she confirmed they would. The hospital would have immediately notified them. Oh well. Let's go with the protocol then!

I got me an appointment to get them out, but then on Saturday I found them unpleasantly itchy. The wound had clearly healed sufficiently for the stitches to come out, but my appointment wasn't for a while. And the stitches snag behind things! I figured I was better off without. I took them out at the kitchen table. It felt better immediately.

On Monday I phoned the GP to tell them that. They didn't seem to mind! And I now have a nice smooth wrist without blue wire sticking out of it! The scar is still a bit sensitive but soon I will be back to normal. And in great shape to try to get back to chamber X, where it all started!

16 March 2017

Pay check

When I finished my education I was quite broke. My PhD had seriously overrun its period of funding, so I had been living off my savings for quite a while when I finally got myself a paid job again. And PhD students don't earn enormous amounts of money, so it's quite lucky my savings actually stretched that far. My first 'proper' job, though, as a postdoc in Norway, was very well-paid; these Norwegians arent't stingy. Upon receiving my first pay check all my financial worries were over.

At the end of that job I found a next position in the UK; not such a generous country. I took a serious pay cut to start working on sea level research. I did two postdocs in that field, both starting in Plymouth, so for both the pay was the same.

Then I went to Bangor for a fourth postdoc postion. The pay in that neck of the woods was actually lower than the pay in Plymouth, so I suffered yet another pay cut. Bangor also didn't provide financial support for relocation, as Plymouth had. I did, though, rent a more expensive place to live than ever before; the trauma of having an awful neighbour was still reverberating in my system, and I was happy to have moved to a very respectable neighbourhood.

At the end of my postdoctoral period in Bangor I had experienced ten years of increasing rents and decreasing wages. I had started to worry a bit. I know money is only money, but I wouldn't want to have to extrapolate that trend; the idea is that with increasing experience your work becomes  appreciated more, and thus remunerated more. In my case I seemed caught in a downward spiral. Of course I could just keep moving into cheaper and cheaper accommodation, but that's not the most enticing prospect one can have.

And then I became a lecturer. These earn more than postdocs! So at the end of these ten years finally my fortunes turned. So for at least five months I can feel like my knowledge and skills have grown so much it shows in my paycheck, and have some confidence the tide has turned for real now... but I can't get complacent. Let's see what awaits me after this very short contract!

15 March 2017

Modest success in the dig

All stitched up I was ready to return to the dig. I had a score to settle with the sharp rock I had cut myself on! I didn't have a car, though; it was being welded back into being legal at the garage. Fortunately I could convince David to sort out a trip in Cwm. We all went! And 'we' was a large group this time.

We had some regulars (David, Paul, Don); Llion, who had a babysitter this night; Simon, who generally works too hard so who we haven't seen for a while; newish people Dan and Flik, newish person Jason, a brand new guy called Rich (not to be confused with the PhD student who had been joining us for a while but who had dropped out when the digs became serious, and who now was about to move back to Ireland) who had seen our movements on internet. And a new woman, Jodie.

We got to the parking lot and changed. Paul would lead the new woman around, and the rest of us would go to the digs. I was impatient. Paul tends to drag his feet and I tend to not be willing to wait for him if he goes somewhere entirely different anyway. Rich turned out to be impatient too so we headed up.

There had been talk of us being needed to lug a heavy pump down, but there was noting in the entrance. Well, that's even better! We went to the pitch and went down. I told Rich I would have  a look at the generator first; I tend to check its fuel levels before I go further. Once you're in it's a bit of a faff to go back and fill it up. To my surprise I found Miles in Generator Chamber. He had been faffing with the pump, which he had managed to get down with only Matt's help! He immediately wanted to know how my wrist was. I could confirm it was excellent.

He and Matt would wrestle with the pumps a bit more, so I took Rich to the working end. There I tried to wrestle with the door-like rock with a crowbar. The men seemed to need the power of the generator for the pumps! I did manage some movement, but I couldn't topple it, and it was getting scary. I figured we would have to try to blast it. That meant using the drill! I went back to the generator, where the men were just done with the pumps. I could use the drill! So I went back. Rich went to have a look in Dig 1; that was where the others were.

I set to my task. The charges we use are quite long, so you need a long drill hole. The problem is that this slab was rather thin. I had best drill in the sides, but I couldn't reach those. There would have been no space for a drill anyway. I had to try to get the drill bit in at a funny oblique angle. It was hard and uncomfortable! And my drill holes weren't promising.

I needed a break so decided to blow up another rock, which would make the entrance bigger. Hopefully big enough for Miles. We set the lot of fin one go, and started to clear the rubble. With three it went fast! But the 'door' hadn't budged. Hmm. I could not assess how deep my drill hole had been but it clearly had been too shallow; the charge had been sticking out and just blown that way, rather than sideways. And there was no time for another try! This rock lives to see another week...

We blew one more round closer to the entrance and left; it was time to get to the others. We found them all and went out. Llion updated me on the progress in Dig 1; there had been some! That was very exciting! It had been a while. Maybe some day soon we could go back and push it further.

When we got out Miles offered me a lift down in his Landie. It was a beautiful evening and walking would have been quite pleasant, but I wasn't turning that down. Next week again, and then with success with the rock?

14 March 2017

More electricity trouble

I came home, opened the garage to park my bike, and switched on the light. Or rather; failed to do so. Nothing happened! I suspected a faulty light bulb and went insiude. No light in the kitchen either. Oh dear! More electricity trouble. Was it just me or was it the whole area? I stepped outside; most houses were dark, and on the other side of the street I saw some flickering candlelight. Looked like a power outing.

I checked if the supplier knew about it; their website quickly disclosed they did. They thought they'd have it sorted by 21:32. A very precise time! But that was all I needed to know. I put on my caving helmet, lit some candles, put some batteries in the radio and went about my business. I cook on gas so I wasn't seriously impeded in my actions.

Later there was a knock; it turned out to be chuggers. They were a bit surprised to see me in my smart teaching outfit with a hardhat on. They were also rather blinded, even though the light was at its dimmest setting. I was already sponsoring their cause so I didn't have to subject them to my light very long.

A bit earlier than 21:32 the lights came back on. The next day I saw some fencing around a nearby electricity substationy thingy. That must have been it! It's sometimes good to be a bit of a troglodyte; it doesn't break your stride if the mod coms fail...

13 March 2017

International women's day

I don't think I often do anything special on International Women's day. This year I did! The university had organised a meeting and I attended. There were some speakers I knew, and some speakers I didn't.

It started with our pro-vice-chancellor Jo Rycroft-Malone. She talked us through the position of women at Bangor University through the years. The very first student, in 1884, was a woman! I didn't know that. There is no gender balance though, not even after 133 years. There are lots of women around but not in high positions.

Then Laura McAllister took the stage; she was a Welsh professor in sociology in Liverpool. She had also, until recently, been head of Sport Wales. She was quite vocal in Welsh politics. She had some well-formulated thoughts on being a woman in a position of power. She was quite aware of the need to speak up as a woman, given that most noise is still made by men. She also knew it wasn't without risk; a woman speaking up is quite a cue for quite many men to start hurling sexual humiliation at said woman. I ponder this on a regular basis on a very small scale; old-fashioned thoughts on gender are not unthinkable on the mine exploration forum I frequent, but I have to give myself quite a pep talk before I call anyone out; the place is a veritable sausage fest and although the act of speaking up is a good thing in itself, but one rarely receives constructive responses. Anyway. She spoke of such things, and of how being a sole woman in a high position does mean you get a disproportional amount of attention, and that you have the responsibility to use that. She also said that if you can't find a role model, you better become one yourself. Such things matter! She was quite inspiring.

At the end there was time for questions. I spoke up; I had noticed Jo had a nicely bilingual presentation, but where she compared men and women in the English version, she compared 'dynion' with 'merched'; that's men versus girls. That's one of my pet peeves; in the newspaper you very often will see 18- or 19-year old males referred to as men (especially if they have committed a crime; if they have invented something amazing they tend to be 'teenagers'), while females are often referred to as girls up to silly ages. And I know it is the convention, but SHOULD it be the convention to pair dynion and merched? I think not.

There was also a question from the floor from a woman who had a small daughter who had always wanted to become a vet; one day she came home and said she would have to be a veterinary nurse as she was not a man. She was five. Society still does this sort of stuff! There is still a lot of work to do.

There were more speakers but for me, it was Laura McAllister who stole the show. A role model right there! And I try to be one for the students. Although I am worried too; we these days have teaching & research lecturers, and teaching & scholarship lecturers. The latter only teach. We have five. We're all women. Oh dear. Is teaching for women and research for men? What message are we conveying? Do we now need positive discrimination for men in teaching positions? And the same for women in higher management? As I said: there's work to do!

11 March 2017

Anglesey Half Marathon revisited

I had done the Anglesey Half Marathon once; I had (accidentally) broken my personal record on that distance then. I wouldn't do anything like that this time! The day before I had felt quite shit, and due to teaching being very busy I hadn't trained. But well a run is nice. And a race starting only a 15 minute walk from home is nice!

I got up, had another paracetamol against lingering headache, kitted up, had breakfast and left the house at 8.45. It was raining, and the forecast was it would keep raining for the duration of the race. Oh well. I got to the start 8:58 or something. Early enough! I made sure to start in the back; I didn't want to start too fast.

 The roads ready for the race

Me ready for the race

 The crowd ready for the race

I pootled along at a leisurely pace. It was nice! Although my stomach was hurting a bit. I figured that would go away. After a few km I saw a colleague; Connor, who had helped me with my MATLAB. I stayed with him for a while. We had a nice chat and it was all very pleasant. I had to moderate my speed a bit but I wasn't feeling ambitious anyway. It was good to be social! Connor is a good chap and a half marathon is long enough to carry the risk of getting boring...

Slightly blurry picture of Connor and me

When we got to the halfway point I started to want to speed up a bit, and Connor encouraged me to give in to that. I said goodbye and scooted off. My stomach ache was gone by then! And it was nice to overtake lots of people. Slowly Menai Bridge came closer. It was nice to see the 10 mile sign, and the 11 mile, and 12, and then it didn't matter anymore. I had a good speed, was feeling good, and thundered over the finish line without a clue on how long it had taken me. I ate a half banana, drank some water, received my shirt and medal, and walked away. I was soaked to the skin, and didn't want to get cold.

Solo running, near the finish; still with my hands in my sleeves...

I had figured I would be very tired after the race, so I had decided to bring my credit card with me. That way I could walk past the supermarket on the way back, and get the groceries over with. Then I could just spend the rest of the day at home! And so I did. When I got home I immediately got rid of all my soaking clothes and jumped into the shower. That was lovely!

I had done it in 1:52:37. That was almost exactly the time I had run in the Conwy Half Marathon; another half I hadn't trained for! That's quite a nice coincidence. And I did the second half a minute per mile less than the first half; you could clearly see the effect of me going solo! My spate of racing triumphs has come to an end, but who knows, I might have another one later!

10 March 2017

Rescue training

The last training day didn't seem a long time ago. It had been 3.5 months! Time for another session. Some people thought it was rather topical; David, especially, had been pondering what would have happened if I would have cut an artery the Thursday before. I had been in the dig at the time, in some forward position where my only companion, Miles, had no chance of going himself due to his more manly size. What if I would have fainted? That would certainly have been a call-out. I myself think that I would have made it back to Miles (who was only a meter away), arterial bleeding or not; then I would at least have had a tourniquet and moral support so I suppose all would probably have worked out in the end. But one can never rule out disaster; even those who stay at home can slip on a greasy floor and bang their head on a pointy bit of furniture. I will be back in the dig! And I will go where Miles can't follow. But back to the training.

I wasn't quite in the right mood; I had ended up in bed rather late that Thursday, and on Friday I had been quite tired. I still was on Saturday. I had a headache too. We had to get up early as the session was near Wrexham; about an hour and a half of driving.

Four of us from the area teamed up: David, Edwyn, Paul and me. We drove up (Edwyn knew the way) and got there in good time. It was even sunny! All well.

This time there would be no casualty; we would just train techniques. We had gathered at Minera's Cabin Shaft, which has a rather narrow opening. Hauling a stretcher out of there is precision work. That's why we'd practice a bit! One chap called Tony was looking for volunteers to go in first, and I put my hand up. We would scamper in, set up communications using a heyphone and a field telephone, and practice placing some bolts for a hypothetical haul out of a hole inside the mine.

We scurried in, laying the telephone line (this technique hasn't really changed since WWI) and getting to the hole in question. We didn't get the phone to work, but the heyphone did an excellent job. Then I placed two bolts; Tony, who was leading our sub-team, was surprised to find out we all had bolted before. When I was drilling the holes one chap, who had worked intensively for Go Below setting up their initial zipline-festooned route, observed "Miles has taught you well!".

Soon we left the kit and headed back. Tony suggested another route, but it turned out he only knew his way in this rabbit warren of a mine to a certain extent. We took an erratic route out, but we did come back to Cabin Shaft. There we had to wait; the other sub-team had set up a hauling system and wanted to try it.They lugged Tony up while we waited. I just lay down; I was tired. Luckily the mine was dry and comfortable.

After a while we could get out, and go get our lunch. That was nice! But we hadn't yet finished when we were called back for a hauling system. We would try to improve on the other team's solution. We set up a difficult three-way deviation, and a 6 to 1 rig. Then we tested it: it worked! It wasn't perfect; we had a grigri jamming somewhere which limited the adjustability of the rig, but otherwise all was well. The other team had also managed to get the phone working (they had just taken the batteries out, and scraped the contact points a bit. We could have thought of that!)

We hauled up Edwyn from the other team, watched the others come up on their own steam, and de-rigged. Then there was some faffing (I lay down again; I was still knackered). Then we carried everything back and changed into civilian clothes. We had a small de-brief and then we could all go home.

David had requested stopping on the way back for a meal, and I had agreed to that. It was a bit of faff to find a place we all found acceptable, and then only half of us had food. I was OK with the food but didn't want to linger; I had been ripe for bed pretty much ever since I had got up, and I had a half marathon to be rested for the next day. After some lengthy stories by David I cut the conversation short and demanded we leave. David had forgot I had that race the next day, and hadn't noticed in what state I was...

We drove back. The road was undergoing some roadwork, and that involved bumps. My car struggles with anything bumpy, especially with four people in it, and this proved too much. The last bump resulted in a hellish racket. The exhaust! It had come off and was dragging over the road surface. Oh dear. I was too tired to deal with this, but luckily Edwyn wasn't, and he managed to wiggle it loose entirely. David placed it against the "ramp" sign to warn other drivers, and offered to drive the exhaustless rest. He also saw me drink some water, drew his conclusions, and offered me a paracetamol. That was gracefully accepted! I was zonked when I came home. But it had altogether still been a good day...

08 March 2017


We have weather satellites. We have tide gauges. We have wave buoys. We have a lot of instrumentation that tells us where sea level is, and to what extent that is due to global changes, tides, and storms. All very important! Why? Well, floods of course. But who records floods?

Strangely enough, there was no archive of UK floods. We know how high the sea came, but which heights cause floods? And when and why? It's important to find out.

The aforementioned Ivan Haigh decided we needed to know, so he started to look for data on floods. He had people trawl through newspapers and such sources, and after a year or two of such trawling they linked up the data on floods to the data from the weather instrumentation. The result is: Surgewatch. Find all information on that site! For all severe events, they list what caused the flood (such as a spring tide combined with a certain storm), how the flood occurred (did the water overtop sea defenses? Did it breach them?), and what the damage was. For the milder events information is more concise.

Did they yet find any interesting patterns in all this data? Well, yes! They noticed that floods tend to occur in four different regions, depending on what track a passing storm takes. The good thing is that one storm will only affect one of these regions, and if you can predict its track, you can predict where the problem will be. If you get storms in close succession you know you will either be busy repairing damaged defenses in time for the next, similar storm to come along, or lugging all your flood-related material to the other side of the country if the next storm takes a different track.

Surgewatch aims as well to document all floods to come, including with pictures, so all those reading this who witness UK floods: take pictures and upload them! Floods are the future, and knowledge is power...

File:Northside Bridge, Workington-1.JPG
A river flood: these are not yet incorporated into Surgewatch. Pic: Andy V Byers at English Wikipedia

07 March 2017

Last lecture in fourth year module

When my new job started, it was the Climate and Climate Change module that kept me busy. I had to do all lectures in the first weeks of the job, and I hadn't done them before. It was a lot of work! But now I have given the last lecture in that series. That feels good. And this moment came about a week too late; I should have done that lecture on the day storm Doris stopped all Bangor University teaching. I had the lecture rescheduled to Friday the week after. I had prepared it, so the hard work was done, but I still thought actually having given that lecture would be worth mentioning here.

That last lecture didn't go entirely according to plan; when I went to the lecture room a few minutes in advance there were people in it. I assumed it was someone's lecture wrapping up. When their time was really up I walked in. I found a colleague in it: John, who had actually only just started. He said he had his lecture rescheduled from the day of the power cut. That made two of us! We discussed who should move to the lab next door; as he had already started, I volunteered to go there. This did mean a late start. The computer in the lab had not been used since the power cut and it took forever to start up. And I wanted to be done on time; I had the 11:10 - 12:00 time slot, and at 12:00 our weekly Friday Lunch seminar starts. This week it was my old PI Ivan Haigh talking (more about him in the next blog post). I really wanted to be there, and I wanted the students to be able to be there too! So I would have to stop early. Combined with a late start that meant quite a squeeze on the lecture.

I admit I rushed it a bit. I hope it wasn't too bad. I did manage to get quite some stuff across; I mentioned I would go into detail on stable oxygen and carbon isotopes, and suggested the students would have heard about these many times before. They confirmed that! But when I asked them stuff they often didn't have the answer, so they learned new things anyway. I think it went OK, given the circumstances! And my next job is marking their first assignment. And in a week's time, the students will present about topics they chose themselves. It's a lot of work, this module, but well worth it!

During the seminar, BTW, I received a message from John; he apologised; he had been in the wrong room with his students. Oh well! Happens to the best!

06 March 2017

Long day in the dig

After having worked the first three weeks of my new job without break, I figured I could treat myself to some relaxation in the much quieter week after that. It was reading week; there are no contact hours scheduled. The students are supposed to read up and the staff can catch up. And I figured I could dig a bit.

That Thursday I worked only until 14:30. Then I drove off, and got into the dig. I knew things might get exciting! We had left the place in an interesting state the last time.

When I got to Generator chamber I saw a tube spewing water into it. Great! That means our dig was being drained! Good news. I went on and found Miles at the far end. He had mostly spent his time setting up the pump. While the pump ran, the generator was not available for drilling, so none of that had happened. Miles was contemplating widening the passage, but I wanted to move on. There were quite some rocks we could just manually remove, though, so soon we were making good progress, even without a drill. After a while we came to a narrow bit; one rock was clearly in the way, and it needed some persuasion. That required power, and dealing with that rock was more important than pumping, so we changed tactics. I went to get some supplies from generator chamber, and switched off the pump along the way. We were rolling!

The rock in question shattered nicely, and we got rid of it. I wondered if I could perhaps already squeeze through, but it was still too tight. The rock in the middle had gone, but the much, much bigger one on the right was still there, and I couldn't get past. It would be quite a job to get rid of that! Its configuration made drilling hard. But it had to be done.

There was (yet another) rock in the way of where the drill had to be, so we had to get rid of that first. With some nudging with the breaker it calmly slid down, and brought some more stuff with it. We got rid of that too and then I could go and start drilling. I managed to get two holes in, and we packed them full of charges. While the resin dried (with a new bottle and the new gun it was easy again to apply some) we had some food and drink. Then we were in business!

 The narrow passage when it was still TOO narrow

The rock had split beautifully. It was a bit of faff to get big slabs out of the narrow space, but we did well! And when the slab was gone I tried again if I fit through... and I did! I wormed my way into a next space. It looked safe. In front of me the way was blocked by a vetical slab. I could see past it; behind it was the level! I told Miles we only had to blow that one up and I'd be through. He replied he would have to leave soon. Too bad! But I asked him to hand me my torch; with it I would be able to take some pictures of what was behind the slab. He obliged and I got myself into position. Then I noticed a space next to the slab. Could I fit through? Some contortionism (without helmet) later I knew I did. Cool! I stepped into the water.

The vertical slab in my way

I walked to the other side. The next passage was utterly and completely blocked! Oh dear. It didn't look nice at all. I took some pictures and went back. While I was doing my reversed contortionism, which involved pulling myself up to a slab, I felt I had moved along a sharp edge. I had cut myself!

The next level!

I got through the tight bit, put my helmet back on, and inspected the damage. It looked ugly but harmless. I went back to Miles and reported back on what I'd seen. He was more interested in my wrist. He figured we had to go out! He was probably right. I packed my stuff and headed for the generator chamber. Once there I realised the cut probably needed stitching. Bugger! That would mean waiting in A&E for hours in the middle of the night. But the cut was so wide open it wouldn't heal very soon if it wouldn't be treated.

We went up the pitch, and to the back vein incline. Miles said that was where he kept his Go Below first aid stuff. He said I could claim the dubious honour of being the very first person ever to make use of it. I'll carry that with pride!

When he'd bandaged me up we went down to my car. I showed him the pictures of where I'd been; these few minutes wouldn't matter. Then Miles made sure I had my car key, and drove off. I quickly
changed and drove off to Bangor. I had been to hospital before, but never as a patient! I got there around 11:15, gave the receptionist my details and sat down. I was very glad I had stuff with me: a newspaper, three peer-reviewed articles, a flask of hot water, and some apples and sandwiches. I was prepared! And that was good as otherwise the place was downright bleak.

After a while the triage nurse called me in. It was easy to see what needed doing, so they sent me back to the waiting room. After a while my name was called again; a young woman would see to me. She was very nice. She first checked my hand; she was impressed I had cut myself so badly without damaging any ttendons, arteries or nerves worth mentioning. We discussed what needed doing; I said stitches, and she agreed. I think she would have preferred glue if the would would not have been in an area where you stretch the skin so often. But stiches it would be! She first washed the wound; I had licked it myself but not managed to get all the slate out. Then she anaesthetised it, and stitched it all together. Neat job!

In hospital

 The finished job!

That wasn't all; the triage nurse popped by to give me a tetanus shot. And the stitching lady took my blood pressure. Then I was done! It was 1:15; all was done and dusted in two hours. Not bad at all! I was glad to be able to go home. That cut will heal in no time! And I think that vertical slab I cut myself on will not outlive me...

04 March 2017

Improvement to caving suit

I still have my very first caving suit. It has seen quite some repair through the years (most of them undocumented, but not all). It's getting to the end of its life! It can still do modest trips, but use in the digs, which is hard on material, lead to the need for repairs every single week. That's a bit much; I decided to swap to my newer caving suit, which was a bit more sturdy to start with, and surely is now. That works fine, but the old suit had a camera pocket on the arm, and the new one doesn't. I don't like keeping my camera in the chest pocket; that's harder to get to, and having a metally clump on your chest can cause damge to self and camera when doing some iffy belly-crawling. I had hoped to fit a pocket on in between jobs, but that didn't happen; I instead did it after the first few hectic weeks were over. It's done now! I'm ready for documenting whatever. Bring on more progress in the dig! And I hope my handiwork lasts...

The bum of my old caving suit... a lot of work went into that. Crawling around in the digs just keeps tearing it!

Camera pocket coming into existence!

03 March 2017

Williamson tunnels

Even though mine exploration in Britain is a hobby with a rather Victorian taste to it, this is the 21st Century, and internet plays a big role in it. We organise ourselves using a national mine exploration website. That site is also used to organise trips open to everyone. There was a trip announced in Liverpool; that’s not so far away! And the venue of the trip was a series of strange man-made underground spaces which seemed to have been a combination of quarry and building. Liverpool has very beautiful red sandstone, the Helsby Sandstone, (quite evident if you approach the city by train) which has been quarried for building stone.

Liverpool was the home of a rich tobacco merchant, Joseph Williamson, who seemed to have taken delight in taking modest quarried-out spaces and arching over them in dressed sandstone and brick. Nobody quite knows why; he seems to have not left any records. Since his death in 1840 they seemed to all have been filled up with rubble and garbage and whatnot. But in the past decades, enthusiasts have been digging them out. And we would go and have a look at what they’d uncovered.
It was the usual suspects setting off from Anglesey: David, Paul and me. We set off early as we wanted to be there by 10AM. We arrived at the scene, and Paul contacted his mate Chris, who had come to us to visit Parcmine, who was one of the Williamson diggers.

While we said hi to him we saw another car with Welsh mine enthusiasts approach. And another two, and a car containing Chris from theYorkshire bunch. Soon all we expected were there. We could go to the first site! Originally, all tunnels might have been linked, but they are not now. We would first go into the most recently excavated bit, around the corner. 

We first got put into harnesses, and then given an introductory talk by one of the diggers. Then we went down into what was known as the Wine Cellar. And indeed, there was a wine rack in there! And lovely brick arching, and funny nooks and crannies, and artefacts. It was very nice! 

 The unassuming terrain under which the wine cellar and the banqueting hall were found

 Interior of the wine cellar

After we’d all had all the time in the world to photograph everything we went out again, and went into the next bit. That was the bit we were wearing the harnesses for; the entrance was down a ladder of some 5 meters, and Health and Safety inspectors had demanded everybody is rigged to a tripod in order to negotiate it. Dearie me. 

We first got into a room with an enticing rathole in it; I couldn’t resist and scampered to the end. All good clean fun! Then we went to what was known as the “banqueting hall” which was indeed rather impressive. When we got out we could get rid of the harnesses again; the other site, Paddington, was accessed via a staircase. 

 The banqueting hall

We went there; this was clearly the finished bit. Every excavated room was full of amazing artefacts. There was little logic to the spaces; one was unusually high and narrow; a bit like a church nave. We scampered around and admired it all, taking plenty of pictures. But the space isn’t excessively big; after a while I got impatient (surprise, surprise). I decided to say goodbye to both Chrisses, and go to the car, where I had a lovely flask of coffee I was craving. I had sandwiches and apples too. And even a newspaper Time to enjoy these! So I did. As a last bonus I got a NYMCC buff from (Yorkshire) Chris. Lovely!

Artefacts in the Paddington site (just a few of the very, very many)

 Looking down into the church-like space

After a while David, and then Paul, also arrived. Then we could go do the next leg of the journey; David had requested a visit to Crosby Beach, which is festooned  by a rather famous set of statues. I had heard about them from Hugh. It wasn’t far! Paul navigated me to it, and in the bracing wind we took a stroll. The beach looked nice with the sunlit sand contrasted by a slate grey sky. I wasn’t excessively impressed by the statues, but hey ho, now we’ve seen them. And I did enjoy the plethora of very happy dogs running all over the place. And without issues we drove back to Anglesey. A good day to mark my first proper weekend since the new job started!

 One of the statues