29 June 2017

School of Ocean Sciences: end in view?

It seems the School of Ocean Sciences was established in 1985. I myself was too busy making drawings of horses to care too much about that at the time, but it looks like I might witness, and care about, its demise.

As I mentioned before, the university is struggling financially, and now the faintest beginnings of plans of how to cut costs have started to emerge. And one of these plans is: changing the College of Natural Sciences into the School of Natural Sciences. That would mean merging the School of Ocean Sciences (SOS), the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) and the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography (SENRGy). This big school would be part of the new College of Natural and Physical Sciences, or something like that. That would include chemistry, electronic engineering, computer science, and the likes. How does this save money? Noboby knows. Could it mean that nothing changes but the name? Not likely, as there would be no point making this change. Does it matter? Well, yes, Ocean Sciences is one of the flagships of the university, and you don't want your flagship to hide behind shrouding generic names. And the university so far refusing to say how exactly this change would save money is a bit suspicious. So what's going on? I'd like to know. And with me many people.

It seems the new college would lose eight FTE in academic personnel (so that is a way of saving money, but that could have well been done without changing the structure of the college), but it's possible that happens without forced redundancies. There will be people retiring soon, and within SOS we already had two voluntary leavers. One saw the storm coming and headed elsewhere; another struggled so much with work-life balance she quit without having another job lined up. If the same thing is happening in SBS and SENRGy then we might very well have reached that number already!

So what does this mean for me? We'll have to see! The Head of School said he had a good impression of me, and had heard good things about me from others, so he would have liked to have money to keep me, but he doesn't. Once the restructuring is over, though, and the necessary cuts have been made, they would go back to a situation in which they can replace people who leave. Then opportunities may arise again. But all that is a bit vague. A position for someone like me may never come up, and even if it does; where will I be then? And who else would be applying? One doesn't know. Oh well. So far I am learning lots, really lots, so for now I'm being paid to invest in myself, and I'll keep at it while I can. But I'll have to keep an eye on job sites! There is, however, a bit of a myth that once you are in Bangor, you can never really leave (unless you're James) so who knows, maybe after this I will find another job elsewhere, but return when a position in Bangor emerges. Would fit within the history of SOS! Hopefully, even after it ceases being SOS...

27 June 2017

Back to the dig

The Laugharne fieldwork always ends on a Thursday. Normally, we are back in the north so late that going underground afterwards is out of the question. But this year, with nothing scheduled on the last day except getting ready to leave, and only 22 students to do so, things had changed. By 10AM all the  students (and the staff) were ready to go. So we left! I dropped the students I was driving off at home or wherever else they wanted to be dropped off, and went home myself, to drop off my bags. It was only 3PM!

I put my lamp in the charger, unpacked what needed immediate unpacking, watered my plants which had survived a heatwave without sustenance, packed my caving kit and had something to eat and drink. Then David appeared out of nowhere; he had asked if he could leave his car on my drive for the duration of the field trip, as he knows I live in a dull part of town with low levels of theft and vandalism, so he had to get back to my place to retrieve it. He had parked his rental vehicle at university and been dropped off at my place. That allowed me to then drive my vehicle to university, followed by David, after which he drove me back up. It had only just been 4PM!

I left at the usual hour to go to the dig; I knew Miles would already be there, and I had told him I had no idea if I could make it or not. He'd just have to wait and see! I had expected him to have been in for a while but I bumped into him before I had even reached the dig.

Our first task was clear out the rubble we had left the previous time. Very satisfying work! As usual I was at the coalface and Miles was lower down, but now the passage was so wide he came up to inspect the situation. This had revealed a possible way on; upwards there were some rocks that would be difficult to remove without endangering yourself, but an opening straight ahead had revealed itself. Well, it's up we want to go, but bypassing the difficult rocks would probably pay off!

We had time for a round of blasting, so we placed a charge in a rock that moved but was too big to chuck down, and one rock that needed to be reduced a bit in order to let me past. That was a success! I saw what next we'd have to blow up so we could come prepared. We did get rid of the fragments of the moving rock but by then it was time to get out.

It was really nice to do some brainless throwing around of rocks after being largely cerebral for almost two weeks! And making good progress is always satisfying. I hope a way up will reveal itself during a next session!

25 June 2017

Laugharne: the second week

The first week was over and routine had set in. All was going fairly smoothly! The tides were, as I was concerned, perfect. I could go out at 7AM every morning. Whenever low tide was far away from 7AM (at the very beginning and very end of the trip) it was also quite low. That was great! If low tide is, say, at 3AM and 3PM things can get hard, as at 3AM it's dark (and also unpleasantrly early) and if you have a total duration of your assignment of

 11 hours and you HAVE to do the bit in the field first, you can't really start at 3PM, as you'd be at it until 2AM.

One thing that didn't get better with time was the weather. It got really, really hot! For me it was bearable as I am only in the field until 9AM at the latest, and that just doesn't get as bad as the mid-afternoon, and the rest of the day I am in a shady lab. The chalet my lab was in stayed relatively cool. The other buildings became saunas! Everybody struggled to sleep in the heat. The mid-day activities outside became unpleasantly hot. But what can you do!

I also didn't run an awful lot; I didn't want to run before going into the field as that would mean getting up even earlier. I ran one during lunch break, but I tend to only have an hour, and that also includes tidying up, having a shower and having lunch. Not much worth it! And if I had students finishing early it was still very, very hot then. I did manage an acceptable number of runs, though. I even found a route that avoids the main road! Unfortunately, this route included a part of the coastal path nobody ever seems to use, and it was very overgrown with plants that gave me nasty swollen scatches. Not nice! After a few attemtps of stomping a path through I gave up and just used the little stretch of the main road to get to the country roads anyway. Less hostile vegetation there, and fewer biting insects too!

 The alleged coastal path

On Monday we went into the field to drill a core. It was way too hot, but we did it anyway! We split the students in three groups; one doing gepophysics to tie in with the core, one group actually coring, and one group describing the core sections. The core came out splendidly; that made up for the discomfort. Through the day, though, the students got increasingly boiled, and their enthusiasm dropped off a bit. The last group to decribe core sections got the least interesting bits of the core; they struggled a bit. But we got it done!

The drilling field: drilling happens behind the van; the gazebo in the back is for geophysics, and the gazebo in the freground provides shelter for those describing the core sections

Core descriptions in action

After dinner on the coring day, David suggested we go and retrieve a time lapse camera he had put up at the estuary mouth. I thought it would be a good opportunity to see something of the area outside the small bit where I take the students every day. I was tired, but it didn't sound like a long walk to get that camera. How naive I was. With David everything turns late. We retrieved the camera from an amazing vantage point, and from there we continued to the beach. David wanted to fly his drone over two areas. But time was ticking! And we had to walk all the way back to the car. I suggested I leave him, get the car, drive to close where he was flying his drone, and pick him back up. We did that! And got home at 10PM. Bedtime already! But if I ever end up in charge of this trip, I will try to  bring the students to that spot on the first day. It provides such a lovely view!

 The mouth of the estuary

After the weekend the staff numbers dropped off; Colin (who had only done the first Monday and then the weekend) left, Jaco left, the geophysicists left, Tasha had already left; only two members of academic staff were left. The rest comprised three technicians, one photographer, and one teaching assistant. No problem, but a bit quiet. As I have such long hours, and the technicians too, it was Martin (the other academic), David (the photographer) and Maxine (the teaching assistant) who did all the cooking from then on. But they didn't seem to mind!

And then the final day came. The students were a bit cranky by then (well, two of my five were) and it was the hardest day to teach; it was still blazing hot and if you have a few students who are fed up they risk infecting the others. But we got through it! Maxine and I packed up the lab in no time. I even had time for a small run afterwards

The next day we packed up all the other chalets, and had a look at how the students were faring. We had told them we would leave at 10AM, and lo and behold, they were all ready at that time! I think that might have been a first.

I think we all pulled it off! There were no injuries, there was no serious damage to anything and nothing got lost, and most field days went ahead as planned (there was one case of an unexpectedly deep river channel, but we successfully dealt with that). All the students did my part of the trip successfully. All staff agreed that this had been a good cohort. I think we can call it a success! That's one weight off my shoulders!

Laugharne seen from the mudflat

23 June 2017

Laugharne: first week done

The fieldwork would start easy for me. On the first day I only had to drive a rental car down. The next day Colin, the man who had started this fieldwork, and who had based it on the research he had done here for his PhD some fifty years ago, would lead a trip through the area. He brought us all to the river quite far upstream, so outside the reach of the tides. He then took us to a headland at Pendine from which we could see the back-barrier system, which features importantly in the trip, pretty much in its entirety. Not all students enjoyed the steep walk up, but hey, they can't have it all.

The marsh on the first day in the field; notice the weather is still nice and cool

We also went to Laugharne itself, to look at the estuary, and to scamper through the tidal creeks. I don't really think it's scientifically necessary to do so, but it makes it clear which students have the tendency to get stuck in the mud. There is always at least one! And indeed, this time too. And it's important to know that; the students survey the whole estuary, and this way they know which students should not be asked to do the extra muddy transects. It was great fun!

Only the third day things got more complicated. Students went off to do five different things, so they all needed to know what time to gather where, what they had to bring, and we had to sort out the vehicles for driving them all around. And I had a full day in the field and the lab. I only had three students. so it wasn't overly busy, but it did take them some 11 hours to do the entire day. They were a nice bunch though, and all worked out. The day after I had five; that was quite a day. The day after that I had none and could just work on a manuscript.

Laptop in the empty lab: research time!

That first week we also had the company of one of our PhD students.We were short of hands in several ways, so we needed someone versatile. A renaissance woman, as Colin put it. And we have one! By the name of Tasha. She could only attend the first week so we took what we could get. She could already drive any of the vehicles we have, and she could help the students with the MATLAB work they do, and we would teach her to survey on one of the first days. And it worked well!

She had not only brought her versatility but also her dogs. They were a lovely addition to the fieldtrip! They are very cute and well-behaved, so everyone loved them, and they didn't get in the way. They went on Colin's trip; they tried to make pretty much everyone throw sticks for them. Tasha told everyone to not give in as they are silent as long as no sticks are thrown; when there are, however, they don't stop barking, and that would get in the way of the teaching. But it was cute to see them try!

Jaco trying to get a grab sample from the river while the dogs try to get someone to throw a stick

One of the dogs once escaped the lab when the cooking smells from the main chalet were getting too tempting; he legged it straight to its kitchen. Oh dear! And the other one once decided she wasn't getting enough attention, and forced herself onto the laps of the people who were clearly the busiest checking taxonomy. Not very practical, but very sweet!

We now have to do without both Tasha and the dogs. It's not quite the same but we'll manage!

Sprocket and the microscope (this one has a camera mounted; hence me not looking through the ocular)

18 June 2017

Laugharne: the pressure is on

I had participated in the Laugharne fieldwork several times before. What I do with the students is take them sampling a salt marsh in the morning, and pick forams in the afternoon. It is a time-consuming activity; it is not unusual for the whole day to take 12 hours. Fourteen hours has happened too. And that every day! But there isn't much pressure on the system. I'm comfortable in my sampling and my taxonomy. But this year is different.

Having been made partially responsible for the fieldwork was a game-changer. Before the fieldwork I was jumped at by thoughts such as "Has the accommodation actually been paid? How will we get the keys to the rental vehicles? Do we have enough notebooks for the students? Have the computers been sorted? Will the student will visual problems (who doesn't answer my emails) be able to do microscope work?" and much more like that. And once there, I have these long days in the lab but it's also up to me to make the schedule every day for the next day and post it up, so the students know what time to show up where. I also have to make sure we have the vehicles to get everyone where they need to be. I also am the logical person to answer students' questions, but I hope they just go to the member of staff most relevant to their inquiry, as I only know about my own field day. And I feel responsible for making sure someone is cooking food every day.

 A few days in it seems like everything is working. This year is relatively easy; the trip is now compulsory for fewer students than in the previous years, and students are not likely to do something that costs £150 (or £90 for those on a small budget) and takes 11 days if they do not have to. Last year we had 35 students; this year only 22. The logistics are a lost easier this way! And all seems to roll on as usual; the various activities are happening as planned, people cook meals, all is well; once the trip has momentum it doesn't need much interference. Good!

Introducing the field: Colin gesticulating in a salt marsh

15 June 2017

Back to the ladder

Some weeks ago we had returned to an obscure corner of our favourite mine. We had intended to climb one slab that had a fixed rope, and then a slab which didn't; we had brought a ladder to help that aim. In the end we went elsewhere, but we still wanted to climb that slab. We left the ladder for a later date.

That date was now. Miles was otherwise engaged so I wasn't in the dig. Only a few of us gathered at the parking lot. There had been talk of our troublesome former PhD student Rich joining that night, but he would later turn out to have initially driven to the wrong mine and thus showed up too late.

It had been a wet day and the river was swollen. We lugged a drill, bolting kit, and several ropes up. And then down to where we wanted to be. I was the first one up the first slab, and the first thing I did was check if we had a lot of rope left at the traverse we had rigged the previous time. We didn't; only some nine meters! Oh well. We had brought ropes. But there was something else; the pitch we had done even longer ago had now turned into a veritable waterfall. Oh dear!

I went up the ladder to look at the situation. I knew there were bolts there. I tried one with my spanner; the nut came off! All we needed was hangers and maillons. We had brought those! I went back to get the bolting kit. The first bolt I could rig without too much discomfort, but the next one was already within the realm of the waterfall. Oh dear. I just kept going. I didn't want to get wet for no reason! I made things worse by attaching myself to the rope (which I was attaching to my anchor points) in a rather clumsy way and thus getting stuck between a wet rock and a wet hard place. I got there, though. When I reached the top I found a convenient anchor for the rope at the top and threw the other end down; it reached all the way. David first sent another rope up, and then at my request my bag, which had sandwiches and tea in it. I needed a hot drink after this thorough drenching!

David, Jason and Jay came up too. I had a look with David at where the passage at the side went. Only to the next chamber! You could see around the corner, though. Tempting! I tried (largely unsuccessfully) to photograph the chamber, some artefacts, and the waterfall, and tried to stay warm. Jason gave me his jacket; that's the second time he's done that. David first re-rigged the drop down; I just had used one anchor and an alpine butterfly, but he likes his rigs more thorough. He then tried to rig a traverse into the next chamber. I decided to start making my way down, just to get moving and get warm; Jay was thinking the same, but for reasons of not getting home too late. We went ahead. I left my bag as David needed it for transporting the drill.

A small bottle and some det boxes on display

Jay and I came out. We had no idea how far behind us the others were! After a while I told Jay he should just go if he wanted. He did. I had to wait; I was sharing a car with David.

Twenty-five minutes after Jay and I had come out I heard the others. Good! David was carrying out his jacket. He handed it to me; it was more use around my shoulders. We went back to the cars and there I tried to get comfortable. I regretted not having brought dry underwear. And I don't like going commando! I had to accept going home in damp pants. Oh well. An acceptable sacrifice for new ground gained (by us, then; others had clearly been here before). When will I be back? Might not be for a while; I might be back in the dig soon! And that's proper new ground we're gaining there. But these forays in rarely visited terrain are quite exciting too!

13 June 2017

University in dire straits

It is already one and a half years ago I mentioned the university wasn't doing very well financially. It still isn't. It's actually worse now! All Welsh universities seem to be struggling it seems. Some English ones are, too. But the state of Bangor University, of course, is most relevant to me. For the last 1.5 years it hasn't been the case that nobody at all has been hired; we have 1.5 new lecturers in marine biology, and a new data librarian, and maybe some people in posts I don't know much about.  And there's me. That isn't much, though, especially if you think of the number of people who have either retired or chosen to go elsewhere in that period. People are gloomy and prospects are bad! We regularly get emails about that the situation is dire and that we need to save money. We have meetings within SOS as well about it. The media are buzzing with rumours on forced redundancies. But what is really going on?

On Thursday I went to a meeting organised by the three main unions (UCU, Unison, Unite) about the situation. There clearly had been some discussing going on between unions and university management. The unions wanted a guarantee on no forced redundancies, and initially the university seemed to have been willing to give that, but had withdrawn it. So now what? The deputy vice-chancellor in charge of finances would be there to give a presentation, and take some questions. Not all questions; one of the biggest lecture halls the university has (if not the biggest) was packed. People were sitting in the corridors and standing on the sides. There were more questions than he could possibly answer. But he mentioned that so far the university had been putting out fires; what they wanted to do now is make such big savings they would then actually have money to invest in the university again. How? He wasn't very clear about that.

After a while he left. Then the union reps took over. They explained there had not been any specific proposals by the university on how exactly to save that money, but a lot of suggestions had been made. Some savings were no-brainers; the university seems to spend a fortune on conference attendance and business class travel. As researchers always go to conferences on their project budget, one assumes these posts must benefit higher management. They weren't popular with the audience in that lecture hall!

Cutting conference attendance and business-class travel won't be anywhere near enough, though, so what else to do? Fire people? Have a pay cut all over university? Ask everyone to take every 10th day off? And then it gets complicated.

Firing people is not a popular option, of course. But I can imagine it shouldn't be entirely ruled out. I have worked in places where there were people without whom the university would run better than with them. It frustrated me they weren't booted out; I can't now suddenly be entirely against booting people out.

The pay cut would be OK with me. It would have to leave out the lower earners. We academics can generally do with less money, but I'm not sure if the same holds for the cleaners and security officers and whatnot. And if we get a pay cut we want the big earners to get one too! Some people, however, are worried about high-flying academics then going elsewhere and the level of research dropping off. Nobody wants that. 

The 10th day off option would be a bit weird because the work load wouldn't change. I suppose support staff who only work the hours they are paid for would get less work done, and the academics would probably keep working as hard as before but just get paid less. And I think the academics get a lot more than the support staff, so this would be an egalitarian option, but it would still be a bit twisted. What would be the impact of support staff doing 10% less work? Will the academics resent the even more blatant disconnect between the hours worked and the remuneration? And will the best people leave?

What will happen? I don't know. I'll be on fieldwork soon. I suppose I can still get my voice heard as my union (UCU) will undoubtedly keep me informed, and let me know if there will be a vote on something. All I can say now is: watch this space! I hope somehow this can get solved without too much drama. Not likely, but let's keep the faith!

11 June 2017

One Welsh book down!

It took a while but I got there! A year ago, I mentioned I was already halfway in a Welsh book. It took me a year to read the other half. I took that book with me to many places! It's been on a research cruise, in Greenland, and to the Netherlands more than once. Reading in Welsh isn't necessarily fast (although a novel in Welsh went rather swift) but this book was rather dry. I decided to push on, though. The topic was interesting, but it wasn't an unusually well-written book! Unfortunately. I know it also exists in English so I could have just switched, but I didn't.

The book is about a concentration camp in Wales where a lot of the people involved in the Easter Rising were locked up. They didn't have an awful lot to do in there, so they passed the time pretty much doing what would turn out to be starting the IRA. It's called "Y Pair Dadeni"; this means "the cauldron of rebirth" or, as I have it heard more colloquially being referred to, the Magic Cauldron. In this case, the rebirth was that of the Irish nationalist movement. And the Magic Cauldron is a theme from Welsh mythology.

So now what? I didn't have to think long about that; our Welsh course has themed chapters, and we had recently done one on Welsh literature. And there seems to be one book that is generally known as the best one ever written in Welsh: Un nos ola leuad (one moonlit night). Well, let's try that one then! No idea whatsoever what it's about (the title leaves a fair amount to the imagination) but I'll find out. Just that other people like it doesn't mean I will, but I'm sure it will be more pleasing than the previous one!

09 June 2017

Nantlle Ridge

There are some iconic walks around here. One is the Snowdon Horseshoe, which I have not done yet (I have done half several times). A much, much smaller one, but much more quiet, and still quite spectacular, is Nantlle Ridge. Tradition is to do it with two vehicles; doing the ridge both ways is a bit much, you don't want to go back through the valley (you can't avoid the road, and people drive fast there), and you can't really go back around the other side of the valley either. So one puts one car on one side of the valley, and another one on the other, and then you can do it one way on foot and the other by car. But I didn't want to wait until someone else with a car would want to team up, so I decided to go for it with my bike in the back of my car.

I decided on a Saturday, and made sure the bike was already loaded up. On Sunday I got up reasonably early, had breakfast, packed my bag, and set off. I parked near Rhyd Ddu, like I had done when I went for a walk with Monique. I got my bike out and set off. This way I would do more downhill than uphill. Good!

My colour-matched vehicles ready for the adventures

It still took a while to get to the other side of Nantlle,where I wanted to start. I had seen on the map that there is a public footpath that starts at the main road, and it doesn't quite lead to the ridge, but it goes in some semblance of the right direction. There is no official path over the ridge at all, but I knew there would be a non-official one. Good enough for me!

I found the start of the path but there was no sign. It wasn't indicated further on, either. That was not such a problem; I needed to just make sure I would walk uphill to go in the right direction. I stomped through some rough and swampy fields, climbed carefully over some walls and fences, and finally found a track. That was on the map! Now it would get easier. (The starting point of that track was too difficult to get to by bike.) I saw the track would have a junction, and another limb would go in the right direction for a few hundreds of meters. Well, I assumed it would go further. And it did! I needed to skirt an impressive cliff (Clogwyn-y-Cysgod, or Shadow Cliff) and that was easy to find. When I was almost up I stopped for coffee. Sipping the stuff I saw two tiny specs in the bottom of the valley below me make their way up to the head of the valley. And fearlessly climb up! That looked tricky.

I came through a (part old part active) slate quarry along the way

Coffee time!

View from the coffee spot: notice the path snaking steeply up

I went on. When I got to where the specs would come out onto Craig Cwm Silyn (No idea what 'Silyn' means) I saw it wasn't as steep as it had looked from where I had been sitting. It looked inviting! Trip for another day.

 Where the steep path reached the top

Now I was at the top of the ridge it became easy. The top was broad and flat for a while, until I had to do a fairly steep descent to Bwlch Dros-Bern (Pass over whatever "Pern" means) in order to climb back up onto Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd  (Mountain at the end of the swamps). From here the mountains looked beautifully velvety. At the obelisk at the top I stopped for lunch. Three Londoners passed me; they had started in Pen-y-Pass the day before! They probably came over the top of Snowdon. Quite a hike, and very busy, I guess! I suppose they may have a sad homecoming...

Selfie with the flat landscape of Craig Cwm Silyn

 View into Cwm Pennant

Pretty bog cottom in from of a grim-looking Craig yr Ogof

I went on. Trum y Ddysgl (Ridge of the Dish) was waiting! It was very pretty. I also liked the completely empty valleys I saw on my left. Generally you couldn't even see a path in them. On the right had been Cwm Pennant (for completeness: Corrie at the top of the valley, where I had tried to run), but now my view had passed over the pass and I was seeing the main valley leading to Beddgelert again.

 Looking back on velvety Mynydd-Tal-yMignedd

Mynydd Drws y Coed, with Snowdon in the background

Trum y Ddysgl lead to Mynydd Drws y Coed (The Mountain of the Door of the Woods), from which it was actually a scramble to get down. I didn't expect that anymore! It was fun though. And I got down to y Garn (The Cairn) and I knew I would have to find a path down. I did but lost it again; oh well, I could just walk down the grassy slope. It wasn't so bad! When I was almost down I sat down to enjoy the view and an apple before I would rejoin the path I had taken with Monique. From there it was only minutes back to the car. I got there by 15:30! Not bad.

One of the empty valleys (it doesn't even have a name on the map) with Mynydd Mawr on the other side

I drove down the valley, retrieved my bike, and drove on. Slowly, as you do when passing through Caernarfon in a sunny weekend. I still was home by 16:30. What a day! I can see why that ridge has such a name. It is stunning! And I only came across three clumps of people (the Londoners, some people with a dog who whimpered at me, and a couple) while it was a sunny Sunday in June. Brilliant! I might do that trick with the car and the bike more often.

08 June 2017

More coastal runs

It would be a bit dull if I wrote up every run I did. But lumping a few together should work! I did a few closer to home, for reasons of efficiency. It started with a run close to home; looking at the map I realised that there was a lane between my home and the main road west (in the direction of places like Brynsiencyn and Aberffraw where I have done quite some runs) I hadn't tried yet. I did that first! And it was nice.

 Church in the middle of nowhere

The week after the day started really hot, so I decided to run in the woods. I sometimes go there too when it rains; there are many logging roads and these stay passable in heavy rain, while they have no traffic at all. This time though I ran almost exclusively on the paths. Very nice! And good views, as one of the paths skirts the edge of the woods, which is perched on a rock.

Two days later (it was a bank holiday weekend) I went back to Red Wharf Bay, which had been the start of my first Welsh weekend run, but when I had parked up in the west and gone further west still. Now I parked up much more centrally and ran east. The route went over a peculiar sea wall! Charming. And when I was looking for a convenient place to stop I saw a parking lot. Great! A good place from which to run the next time.

 The funny sea wall running along the eastern end of Red Wharf Bay
 People make some viewing platforms pretty! How nice.

You guessed it. The next time I started at said parking lot and ran further east still. Another nice run! A lot of rural idyll and some good views on Red Wharf Bay itself. And where I turned around you could park a car. I have two runs lined up now (I also have already picked a starting point for when I want to continue my coverage of the coastal path from Porthllechog on a day I want to go running a bit further afield!

Red Wharf Bay in the distance

06 June 2017

Productive night in the dig

After three weeks of not being in the dig, and having to do without a drill one week, I was keen to go in and get some proper work done! I wasn't sure last time how to proceed, but that happens all the time, and I was sure I would think of something.

I did what is quickly turning into a routine; I walked up to the manager's office in my civilian clothes; I would probably get sweaty and disgusting later on anyway, but there's no reason to do that any earlier than necessary. At the manager's office I met Miles, changed, and headed for the entrance.

I was very impatient due to the month of doing no drilling whatsoever in the dig, but Miles was keen to widen the lower bit, so he got the drill first. I had to make up my mind on what to drill anyway. I wiggled my way up and had a look. There was a rock quite in the way, but it would be hard to drill it. Then I wondered if I could move it. And I found out I could! There were two really big rocks that did move at some provocation. One scared me a bit; I didn't want to be below it in case it started to slide out of control, and I didn't want to be above it in case it would block my way out. I managed to carefully move it down a bit until it got itself stuck.

The other rock was smaller and could move. I first removed everything on top of it; I put that ready to chuck down when Miles would be done drilling. Then I carefully moved the big one down. It was very sharp and pointed straight at me, but I managed to move it into position to be chucked down.

While Miles got the accoutrements for his drill holes I chucked all my smaller stuff down. The big one followed later, but it wedged itself several times along the way. In the end I managed to have it thunder into the level! Very nice.

While Miles was placing charges I got the drill. I managed a hole in the big wedged rock, and another one in a rock that was firmly stuck in place, but in the way. We charged these too. Miles figured we should blow them all together; that required some intricate rigging.

We had some tea and coffee while the resin set, and then we managed to blast it all. We had a quick look before time ran out; the results were excellent! We had to go. Miles said he might be back before I am; if so, I will return to a beautiful wide and clean passage! And the next challenge is already in sight. This project stays exciting!

05 June 2017

Build confidence

There is such a thing as the College of Natural Sciences Women's Network, and I am part of it, but I'm clearly not advertising it enough because when I looked for an earlier mention of this honourable body on this blog I couldn't find any. Oh dear! We've been going for years.

Why is there such a network, one may ask. Well! Natural sciences are still a rather male-dominated world. To use the School of Ocean Sciences as an example: our Dean (OK, he is CNS-wide) is a man, the Head of School is a man, we have ten professors and only one of them is a woman. Of the non-professoral academic staff the ratio is not so extreme; these are 12 men and 9 women. Men, clearly, dominate the school. And some ladies in the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography decided it was time to have some occasions where women could get together and do stuff once in a while without all these men. So they founded the CNS Women's network. And they had organised this session. Its theme was: confidence building. I went!

 We discussed what confidence is. Not easy to pin down! Having faith in your abilities? Or being comfortable in your weaknesses? Or both, depending on circumstance? And regarding one's weaknesses: that's a pic of me running a race in which I would come last. I think doing that knowing I would be shit at it was a good thing (apologies to the organisation for making them wait).

Do I need confidence? Yes. I have it already in some aspects; I am not nervous in front of a big lecture hall full of students. I don't mind speaking up in a meeting even if I know people will object to what I say. But I can still do with confidence in other matters; I am, for instance, nervous about doing complex things for the first time. I am nervous if I have to lead a field trip for the first time. I may (or may not) be confident about the science, but then there's the organisation and the logistics. What do we need? When do we need it? Where is it? How do we get there? Do all students read the instructions? What do you do with students who don't show up? If some students take a lot longer than others, when do you cut them off and decide they've done enough? That sort of stuff.

Another thing I struggle with is asking for time from other people. All academics are overworked, and the last thing any of them needs is me barging into their office and wanting their time. I do manage on a small scale; I could not have done my MATLAB exercise without asking for help (and getting it) from colleagues. But if it gets bigger I struggle. If you have an approach like that you might have issues getting research proposals together, for instance.

The session could not solve that, of course. I suppose the use of the session was making you think a bit. If you do, you tend to know what you should do. Just facing your fears slowly but steadily tends to be the answer. You don't need to go to a session for that, but if you don't, you might not really get around to thinking of doing some self-imposed exposure therapy. And it was nice to hear the stories of the other women.

I also enjoyed some of the theoretical underpinning of the woman (from HR) who lead the session. She had read up on the subject, and confirmed that there is indeed strong evidence that women are less confident than men. In the west, that is. In some cultures, the genders are so segregated that women only compare themselves to other women, and not to the entire population. And if you compare yourself with the entire population you end up comparing yourself to men. Who dominate politics, and science, and business, and whatnot. Where if Tom deMoulin wins the Giro d'Italia all the Dutch are ecstatic as he was the first Dutch person to do so (and it even says that on the Wikipedia page). Except that Dutch women have done so multiple times. (Insert Andy Murray and Wimbledon for an UK audience here.) And where ignorant male bullies win elections over capable women. Where students will accept a low grade given by an expert female only if it is confirmed by a male colleague who is an expert in something completely different. Where you run a race with more than 1000 runners who all get a shirt at the end, but they only have male cut. Where men still think it's OK to comment something along the lines of "I'll have some of that" when a woman walks past, and then think they defend themselves by saying "I only looked, I didn't touch!". Oh so you didn't commit a crime! That's OK then. Go and treat your fellow citizens like consumer goods all you want then. Oh dear. I'm getting carried away. This sort of stuff tends to do that.

Anyway. I went to that session and it was good. And how am I going to get that confidence? Well, I suppose being nervous about being responsible for big things you don't know much about is perfectly sensible. Maybe I should work on contacting people if I think that would be a good idea. What's the worst that can happen? They may say "sorry I have no time for this". Fair enough. I have to organise a series of seminars next year; that will be a good opportunity to practice! Let's see how many people I think are the bee's knees I can lure to Bangor...

ps all examples given here actually happened.

04 June 2017

Mid term Tuesday underground trip

With Neil the Quiet American in the country and it being half term, the week went a bit strange. Monday was a Bank Holiday so it was a day off, and there was no climbing either. Climbing moved to Wednesday so I moved Welsh Practice to Monday, and on Tuesday Phil suggested another underground trip. As it was half term there was no Welsh class so I joined. Not many of us could!

We met at the Lakeside Cafe. I was a few minutes late and saw Neil's and Don's car already parked, with the men in them. I thought that was strange I suggested we all sit in one car; that's nicer! Then it turned out they hadn't checked whether the cafe was open. A deadly sin! I Immediately went to check. It was! We went in. It was raining, we had to wait for Phil, and the best way of doing that is with a hot beverage.

Phil appeared and had a beverage too. When he had finished it we manned up and got ready for the trip. It would be a small one! It's a short walk and a small mine. I set off in civilian clothes; it was too warm for a caving suit. I did end up with wet feet but hey ho. The midges were out, but as long as you kept walking it wasn't too bad.

The scenic walk up

When we got to the entrance I put my suit on over my civilian clothes, and added boots, helmet and gloves. And was keen to dive head-first into the entrance! Bloody midges. It was nice to get inside.

The entrance
The mine is a bit odd; it mainly is just an adit. It does have nice dripstone formations and funny ochre shapes though. I went to the end with Don; Phil and Neil were looking at every crack in the rock (or something) and didn't move very fast. I sat down with tea and a sandwich.

Funny shapes in the ochrous deposits

Pretty formations

Phil and Neil with the pretty dripstones

When I got out I was immediately attacked again. I had to help Don help Neil out of the entrance, though. When he was out I changed back. When we got back to the cars Phil kept talking; I wanted to get away as I don't enjoy being eaten. I said goodbye and left. Phil must have kept talking for a while as he only overtook me at Llyn Ogwen! And he drives considerably faster than I do.

02 June 2017

Visit by the Quiet American

Every year an American friend of Phil's comes over to come underground with us. He is known as Neil, the Quiet American, as he's a rather introvert character. I couldn't find his previous visit on this blog but I've been underground with him every year. This year Phil suggested some venues; one was Fron Boeth. This is a three-pitch through trip and I had only done two of these (due to the top pitch not being fully rigged and us not bringing the necessities to sort that). I voted for it; it's time I get to do the full trip!

We gathered in Croesor. That included not only Neil but also Phil's wife Julie and their dog, and a dog they were dog-sitting. Nice! Our plan was to first have a coffee in the local cafe, but it was closed; after some wavering we decided to go to Llanfrothen to get coffee there. I had two. That was nice! Then we went to where we normally park up for the mines we had in mind. This time we'd do two; there's also Pant Mawr in the same valley. Simon suggested we could go along the southeastern edge of the valley rather than stomp straight through its middle - which we generally do - and I thought that was a good idea. We'd see something new, and in the valley we tend to end up stomping through dense vegetation and swamps and whatnot. A path would be nice! And we'd see something new. 

We started along the path. It soon vanished, and guess what? We were stomping through swamp. Oh well. Millie the Dog kept our spirits up. She loves running through swamps and jumping into ditches and snorting at vegetation.

In the beginning there was a path. All pics taken with the recently repaired camera by the way; the pics are a bit foggier than reality was

We hoped we could walk over the ridge (where we found a path again; yay!) to the desired elevation and then traverse to the mine, but the traverse looked uninviting and we ended up going over the actual top of Moelwyn Bach. That was a bit of a slog on wellies, in the heat and midges, and carrying ropes and SRT kit, but hey ho. We managed to lose Phil and his entourage somewhere along the way, but they didn't want to go underground anyway.

A fenced area tends to mean a mine entrance; and thus an excuse to stand still and have a breather

Moelwyn Mawr on the left, Moelwyn Bach on the right, and Bwlch Stwlan (the pass) in the middle

After Moelwyn Bach we came to a point where we had recently been. The saddle we had reached from the north and where we had turned east then, we now reached from the south upon which we turned west. Now we were on a tram line; rather comfortable!

Approaching Stwlan Reservoir again; this time from the other side

 On the old tram line

We looked at the southernmost adits of Pant Mawr and didn't like the look of them. We moved further north and found one David investigated; he came back wet up to the thighs but with news that it didn't go. A while later we found the one we had been looking for; we all got rather wet but we got in. We found a mine with two levels as far as we could see, some roofing shafts going up, and a large chamber. It clearly wasn't visited very often! There were hobnailed bootprints all over the place.

 Nicely clear hobnail boot prints

David tried coming out at the lower level but that involved water deep enough to require a change of undies. He went for it but we other ones went back the way we had come, and came out with dry undies. Excellent. We had a little sandwich in the sun and then went on to Fron Boeth. We soon found it. We skipped the top pitch (no! Not again!) as it again would involve sacrificing gear and the men didn't feel like that. And I was getting tired so I didn't insist.

The second pitch should be a pull-through but you can't rig it as such without, guess what, sacrificing some gear. And Neil didn't like the look of the pitch so David rigged it as a normal Y-hang, and Neil and Simon threw the rope after us and went around the outside themselves.

We had some trouble with the second pitch, which now had to be a pull-through, but in which the rope twisted itself which made it difficult to pull down. Was that because the rope was rather new? Luckily we had Don; he solved it. We could go down! We checked the entire lower level (which is small) and then went out. We took our caving stuff off and set off back to the cars via a more sensible route.

Don went home but the rest of us decided to go for dinner. The Brondanw Arms (aka The Ring; the nearest pub) had stopped serving food but we found refuge in the Golden Fleece in Tremadog. The food was good! The "volcano pizza" left David in tears but he ate the entire thing. Then it was time to go home! The next Neil trip will be on Tuesday night. A busy week!

01 June 2017

Some minor repairs

Repairs are so therapeutic! They may be trifles in life but they really give a sense of achievement. And that's why they go on the blog. Recently I had a fairly quiet weekend between weekends with underground stuff happening, and I found time to sort two small issues out. One was that the thingamabobby of my one watch (the one I wear when I am not interested in looking smart) which keeps the excess strap close to my wrist (what are they called, anyway*) had broken; I figured it served a purpose so as unassuming as the little bit of plastic is, I burned four holes in it and stitched the thing up with strong yarn. It works again!

The other thing was that I had bought an arm strap for my phone; it is supposed to be one size fits all. It doesn't; it is clearly made for sturdy people's arms. If I am wearing something sleeveless I cannot tighten the strap. I needed the two velcro components to touch when the thing is around my arm (instead of only fluffy component touching fluffy component); I solved that by sewing a strip of the frictional component over the fluffy component. Now I can tighten it! And I don't have unusually thin arms. They are probably made with men in mind. Wouldn't be the first time!

*: "strap loop" seems to be the answer