30 November 2017

God and the gin shop

I might have been learning Welsh for years now, but it's still difficult. I can read alright, but understanding what people are saying is a different thing. In class it's always something I struggle with. I need practice! And then an email landed in my inbox. A well-known Welsh newsreader (well, he reads the news in English, but he is Welsh) would deliver a public lecture about research he had done on the history of Welsh chapels in London. "Duw a'r ginsiop", by Huw Edwards. That sounded interesting! I have no specific interest in chapels, but I like history, and this would be a good exercise. A lecture by a newsreader; that would be rather clear and well-articulated! So I could focus on the Welsh. And Huw Edwards is from South Wales so speaks South Welsh, but the difference isn't too big. I have read, and am reading, several books in South Welsh so I'm fairly familiar with it.

There seem to be (and have been) lots of Welsh chapels in London! And several kinds as well. Glossy ones for the elite, and shed-like ones for the unskilled workers that would have come walking from Wales to look for work. He had found evidence for preaching in Welsh since 1715, but he was sure it had happened before. William Morgan, the famous translator of the Bible into Welsh (which he completed in 1588), had frequented the capital. Would he really not have preached in his native language?

He also traced what happened with all these chapels. He spoke of evictions and damage in the Blitz and rebuilding and whatnot. I must admit I only got about half of it, but well, that's not bad. I missed several of his jokes but what can one do. I did start to think they're not letting him use his full potential at the News at Ten; here he was walking around animatedly and gesturing freely. Very engaging! Better than sitting behind a desk.

I listened with a woman who is in the same Welsh class; she had brought her father and her husband. The father was actually quite involved in Welsh chapels, and he kept bumping into people he knew. I suppose most people were here because of their religious/cultural interests, and not just to listen to someone talking Welsh! The husband didn't speak Welsh but he would use headphones with simultaneous translation. I also saw my colleague Dei!

At the end of the talk there was an opportunity to ask questions, and then it was time to go home. I was hungry! I had intended to have a sandwich before the talk but bumping into Fiona had distracted me.

Oh and the gin shop? It turned out that one of the earlier organisers of Welsh preaching in London earned his money with, among other things, having a liquor store. A bit unexpected considering the domination of Methodism in Wales, and the general view on alcohol use by Methodists, but well, if it helped people find a religious community far from home, then why not?

Huw Edwards 

28 November 2017

Tasha as guest speaker

 Only two weeks ago I had a guest speaker over. And now I already had the other one! This time it was Tasha, with whom I had done two research projects, as postdocs. We had been doing fieldwork together since 2009. I have turned towards teaching while she is firmly lodged int he research community. And she does very well! Which comes with a lot to talk about in a seminar.

She would arrive by car, with her husband Jack; he would drop her off, go biking, and then collect her again. She phoned me when she had arrived. I greeted them both and took Tasha to my office, and then to the lecture room.

Her talk was, as expected, very interesting! She is still working on sea level changes on the timescale of hundreds of thousands of years. It's a tricky topic; the only places where sediments from other periods of high sea level are preserved are places where the land subsides. And then the question is: how much has the land subsided? But if anyone can figure that out it's Tasha.

One of her take home messages is that climate models predicting sea level rise tend to give fairly modest results; no more than a meter by 2100 (although that's a heck of a lot for many coastal communities). But during the previous interglacials, sea level was higher by some six meters at lower CO2 levels than we have today, and temperatures only marginally higher. Are the climate models missing something? And when will we find out if they are?

After the talk we went to the pub; Tom and Lynda joined. That was nice! And then she did a bit of work on her laptop in my office. And then it was already time to say goodbye!

It had been great to see her! And I hope to stay in touch. She's still doing very interesting stuff! And it's nice to keep in touch with old friends. Maybe within this year I'll be able to tell her where my future lies...

26 November 2017

Calm evening underground

Last week I had decided to go digging and not go with the Thursdaynighters. But this week I decided I should do the opposite. David had had a hard week which involved his mother and health issues, and Mick had been in hospital for another check. A calm night with some socialising was called for!

Paul picked a small mine quite far south. I'd not been! Few of us had. On the day I drove down on my own. David was coming from his mother's place, and Ed was out of the country. While I was driving I noticed I was behind Paul. That's nice! That meant if I wasn't sure of the way I could follow him, and I wouldn't be the first person there and on my own. But he seemed a bit unnerved about this person tailgating him; in Penmachno he pulled over to let me pass. But I got out to show it was me. Then he was fine with me tailing along! And it is a beautiful route, even in the dark.

When we got to the final junction he indicated left. I was sure we had to go right so that's what I indicated. Again Paul pulled over. We discussed the matter and decided we each go our way; it would become apparent quite soon who was right. I went right and soon found the parking lot. Success! But I was the first.

Minutes later Paul showed up. I was trying to decide whether to wear full caving kit, or just slip on some fieldwork waterproofs. It was quite cold! I wished I had my caving hat, but I hadn't managed ot locate it. I settled for the waterproofs.

Then, pretty much on one go, three more cars appeared. I didn't recognise the first one! But the others were Jason and Miles. And the first turned out to be David in his mother's car. Mick had texted he would be a bit late.

After a while we were all ready to go. It was pitch dark, of course, but we sort of knew what direction to go in, and soon we found spoil heaps. A while later we were in. It was a nice little mine. It had nice precipitates all over the place! We walked in and explored to the end. It was a rather dry chamber. We sat down for soup! And Mick told of his hospital results, and of the latest developments in his extended family.

After soup we had some cake David had brought. And then we went out! It was a lovely night. The wind that had been quite strong when we walked up had died down. It wasn't very late!

Most people went to Mick to have more beverages and cake, but I went home. This was a chance to be in bed at an acceptable time! It had been good to reconnect with the Thursdaynighters again. But next week I hope to be digging again! It's time we make some progress in there...

Nice cave pearls

24 November 2017

From rescuer to casualty

Autumn comes with falling leaves and a rescue training. We don't have many, as we're not needed often! The last time had been in spring. And this time I received an email beforehand from Dave, who would organise this session. Would I be willing to be the casualty? I think he especially wanted a woman as it fit his script. He wanted to make the training realistic, with patchy information coming in. The call-out would be because a man who would visit Wrysgan hadn't come home. Only later would it become clear he had not been on his own. If they would find a bloke first they may assume it was the one they were looking for and only deal with him. But finding a woman when you look for a man tells you you need to look for a second person!

In order to prevent me lying in a mine forever and getting cold and bored his plan was: he would tell me where the casualty (represented by a boiler suit and a helmet) would be, and I should make sure I was in the team searching that part of the mine. Once the suit was found I should take its place. Sounded fine!

It was a bit of a faff to elbow my way into the correct search team (Wrysgan has several entrances giving access to several parts of the mine) but I managed. The person at the front got to where the suit was, and noticed it immediately. My cue for sneaking down to it and lying down!

Walking up to the entrance of Wrysgan, with the Cwm tips as a backdrop

The controller radioing down to the base at the car park

Who goes in where? 

Soon a casualty carer got to me and assessed me. I was in a terrible state! Broken neck, broken lower leg, broken clavicle, and ruptured spleen. Oh dear. He picked up on all of that and reassured me. I started muttering about my mate Gary; had they found him? Was he alright? Soon after he was found too, but he remained an empty suit and helmet; this casualty was a fatality. The rescuers were careful not to tell me that...

After a while a spinal board, casualty bag and stretcher were delivered, and I had to be put in. That's quite a faff with a casualty with so many injuries! But they did a good job. Soon I was immobilised, but warm and snug in the stretcher. They then had to hoist me up the slope I had (in the scenario) fallen down, and from there they carried me out. It went rather fast and smooth! There were some issues; I was a bit lop-sided in the stretcher, and my nose and mouth sometimes vanished inside the casualty bag. Not good! Not if you're not fully conscious and you've already vomited (in the scenario, again). But I as myself was quite comfortable.

Being pulled up the slope

Getting me through a tight bit

 I'm out!

They had me out by half past one! That was quick. We had to retrieve some kit and then we could walk down and do a debrief.

While we were debriefing we saw Mick and entourage park up. They were clearly going into Cwm! But we weren't done yet. They waited a while but then they set off. Can't blame them. Would have been nice to say hi though!

As it was so early, several of us went down to the Lakeside cafe for a cup of tea. Paul and Rupert didn't; they decided to scamper after Mick et al and join them! But I knew I still had work to do so I went for the one cup of tea, and from there went to the office. All I could do that day I wouldn't have to do on Sunday!

It was a beautiful day!

22 November 2017

Hit and run in the dig

I thought last week I'd had a short night in the dig. I had seen nothing yet! This week I managed to get out at the usual Thursdaynighters time. That was good, as I got to see them. They were heading into the same mine! I had wanted to join them again; I mean, it's nice to see them, and I love digging, but sometimes I should just leave the dig be and still connect with the other chaps. This week, though, they seemed to have a rather long trip planned. I don't want to do extra long trips! I feel ill last month, and I don't want to do it again. And I tend to skirt quite closely past potential illness. I can't take such risks!

It didn't help that David had sent another aggressive email when I had voiced my concern about how long the TN trip would take. It was so bad that two of the other men asked me about it. Was all well? Well, no, it wasn't. David had not meant to be hurtful but he never means to, and does it all the time anyway. It feels just the same. They could go without me. But David had hurt his knee and didn't come, so I just got this opportunity to see the others before we would head our separate ways. Miles would have been working on the wiring in the Manager's office all day; he would just see when I would show up and then we would go in.

We had two of the biggest talkers on the parking lot, so it took forever before we started walking up. At the manager's office I peeled off, but some of the men hadn't seen the building from the inside at all, or not for a long time, so they all piled in. I can imagine; it looks spiffing these days! But in spite of wanting to do a long trip the others just stood around talking forever again. When they finally set off we got ready to go in too. We weren't even done with that when there was a knock on the door; one of the men! They had forgot their key. Could they borrow Miles'? Well, yes. They would leave it at the gate for us.

When they were gone I realised we hadn't agreed on anything about what we would do with the key after coming out ourselves. How would they get out without it? I ran after them to say we would leave it for them but they were gone. Oh dear. I hoped they would understand we would anyway.

I collected Miles who was now ready too and we went in. But it had got late! And he had to be out extra early that day. We went into the dig and it was almost time to come out again. We had time to blow up a rock, inspect the results, decide on what to do next time, and tidy a bit but then we had to come out. Oh well!

I was out so early I popped by at Mick's for a cup of tea afterwards. But I didn't want to linger as I had made a conscious effort to arrange my night such that I would be in bed at a civilised time! And that sort of worked. So where will I be next week? Not clear yet!

21 November 2017

Not to Svalbard

I had applied for a job on Svalbard in August. I had found out who the other candidates were in September. And then I had another email while I was in Sheffield, for the BRITICE meeting. So was it good news?

Well, yes and no. There had been eight candidates. They had decided three of them were qualified. I was one of them! But I was the least qualified of the three. When I mentioned it to James he said he already knew. The bloke we both know who had applied to had told him he had been invited for an interview! And he had asked me if I had been too. No. So he knew enough.

I mailed the bloke to congratulate him. He was actually on Svalbard at that time! And the second candidate would be there the week after. I'm certain one of them will accept the job. So I'm out. Oh well. Svalbard is quite far from where my mother lives!

I hadn't seen much in the way of jobs recently, but the first time I checked after getting this news I saw another suitable vacancy. In Lincoln. When it comes to excitingness of landscape, that's a bit of an opposite from Svalbard. But a job's a job! Watch this space!

19 November 2017

BRITICE meeting

I've not been employed on the BRITICE project for about a year. I am still invited to the annual meetings, though! And I was feeling a bit self-conscious about it, because of having been pretty much only teaching since the last meeting. But I didn't need to. When the programme came through I saw I wasn't expected to present anything. Good, as I wouldn't have had time to prepare!

I had moved the lectures I had on the two days of the meeting, and booked a train. I travelled with our PhD student Ed. That was nice! We got there in time. When we walked into the room, the first people we saw were James and Lou. Excellent!

My next worry was out of the window soon too; we had been writing a manuscript on one of the transects, and it had stalled a bit. Not how it should be. The first thing James said, though, was that he realised the ball was in his court. He even added he needed to hack away at the brambles that had grown around it. But he would go on a cruise soon, and would perhaps have time to work on it, during transit time.

Then it was time for lunch! It was excellent. Then the talks started, and it started with the transects I was involved in. Tom kicked off. He had turned the Minch transect into a really slick manuscript! I was impressed.  He struggled a bit with the Shetland transect. He'll work it out!

Tom talking about his transects

Then it was the turn of James and Chiv, talking about the transects from the first cruise. They also seemed to have stuff under control. Good! Then the other transects followed. They were interesting too, but it's different if you have not been responsible from any of it.

I was chairing the session after the coffee break and had to improvise a bit. All transects had half an hour scheduled for them, except the last. I thought that might have been on purpose but it wasn't. So we overran! And James had another talk, which was listed as a 20 minute talk, but in a 15 minute slot. Oh dear.

After the last talk I checked in and checked some mail. I saw I had a message from Norway! More about that later. I went down and had a beer with the others, and then dinner. That had place in a nearby Indian restaurant, where we were presented with a buffet. Many of us misjudged the spiciness of some of the food! James spent the entire evening beetroot-faced and dripping with sweat. Oh dear.


After dinner I went straight to my hotel room. I didn't want to wear myself out! And I had a good night's sleep. The next day we started again. The modellers showed their work! That was very interesting too. And in the coffee break I sat with Ed and James, talking through the two manuscripts we were working on. That helped! I wanted to change the set-up of our manuscript. Luckily, James agreed.

Then the meeting already came to an end. It was only two half days; people had to travel too! Including Ed and me. We had some time to kill before our train went. I did some teaching stuff...

Travel back went smooth. I was back in Bangor before six, so I could pop into one of the university buildings (it closes at six), and do some more work while drinking tea. Then I went on to Welsh class! A long day. But it had been good! Teaching will end at some point and then I can go and work on that manuscript. We need to get that published! And a lot more articles will come out from the rest of the project! And maybe I can come to the last annual meeting next year too...

View from the train on the way back

16 November 2017

Doug Scott

A crawl down the Ogre. It sounded mythical! It was the title of a talk one of my climbing mates mailed about. She was interested in going. It was a talk by some Doug Scott. I had never heard of him or of the Ogre, but some light googling sorted that. It turned out Doug Scott had been a prominent British mountaineer, and that he was famous for a first ascent of this mountain in the Karakoram range, called the Ogre, during which he had broken both his legs and had been forced to, yes you guessed it, crawl all the way down. This had been in 1977. These days he still climbed but his days of daring first ascents were obviously over.

Four of us would go; one also suggested eating in the cafe where the talk would take place. Good idea! But then one of the ladies was ill and dropped out, giving her ticket to one of the other ladies; the initiator fell ill on the very day and pulled out without replacement. Oh dear!

I drove up with Ika. Once there, I found a man who had been in the CasCare course, and I invited him to join us. The Heli appeared too. We had some gulash and awaited the start of the talk.

When it started the man did not start at all with the Ogre story. He explained he was doing this series of talks for his charity, which supported local communities in Nepal; he had been involved with that for a while, but had been pulling some extra weight since the big Nepal Earthquake of some two years earlier. What a good idea!

The he got to the Ogre story. Blimey what a bunch of daring types! That mountain looked intimidating on the best of days, but they also had decided to climb from a advance base camp with hardly any luggage. Climb up, take some pics, climb down, crawl into your sleeping bag in the camp, was the idea. You guessed it didn't work out that way.

They summited rather late in the day. They had no tent with them, no food, no sleeping bags, no head torches. They had to get down rather sharpish. But things worked out differently. Soon after summiting, Doug slipped and broke his legs. He had to abseil to a snow ledge as was, and somehow get through the night, with one mate. That was cold!

In order to get off the mountain they actually had to still climb. The ridge had sub-peaks! Oh dear. And they were cold and tired and hungry and thirsty and he was in pain and couldn't walk. Awful! It took them a long time to get to the first camp. There was no food there either, but at least they had a stove, and they found some used and discarded tea bags. That was their sustenance! And on top of that, their sleeping bags had got wet.

They were still days from the foot of the mountain. They had no food whatsoever anywhere on the mountain! And along the way one of the other guys broke several of his ribs. That didn't help the situation. They actually also had one bloke with bronchitis and one with a different leg injury.

When they finally got to the actual base camp they found it deserted. A note pointed out the men they had expected to find there had assumed they were now dead. They had left some food, though. Not an awful lot and not necessarily the best, though! The fittest of the lot set off to try and catch up with the people who had left the note. They were keen to avoid their families to be informed they were dead!

The bloke who had rushed off managed to overtake the surprised others, and soon a party of Sherpas was on its way to go get the injured. And bring them food! So all was looking up. And after some days (maybe even weeks) all were back in the UK, receiving medical treatment. They had made it. And the man still has a good story, all these years later! It turned out he had been writing his autobiography, but that he had ended up writing so much about the Ogre stuff he had decided to give that a book of its own.

After the talk, Scott auctioned off some framed and signed pictures from his trip, all for his charity. Then he signed books and posters. I had a poster signed; a picture of him crawling through a snowstorm. A poignant image. And then we were off!

I think Doug Scott is an inspiring man! He is a good speaker. And clearly does good work. And he must be stubborn to make it alive off that mountain. Would I want to crawl down a mountain that was so difficult it took (IIRC) 23 years before it was summited again, in pain, and doing without food for five days, and having only a wet sleeping bag, and that only after the first night? Not really. Would I have made it? I don't think so! But I'm glad he did. Bring on the good work!

Before the talk

15 November 2017

Gnatty guest

Sometimes you get landed a job that actually has nice perks. When Paul left, he asked me to take over his job as organiser for the palaeoclimate part of the School of Ocean Sciences (SOS) seminar series. We have three entwined series: marine biology, physical oceanography, and, thus, palaeoclimate. Ideally, you wait until interesting people visit SOS anyway, and rope them into giving a talk. But with James' leaving, few palaeoscientists would be visiting us. I had to invite people especially for the seminars! And that's nice. You can pick and choose! I thought of the people I might want to invite. They had to be UK-based as the budget doesn't stretch any further. But there's plenty of those! And I thought only some would say yes so I'd better get a big list together. One person I had had in mind had already been roped in by the physical oceanography organiser: Ivan. But one can't have it all!

The first two I chose were Stefan, a former fellow PhD student in Amsterdam, and Tasha. They are based in Nottingham and Leeds, respectively, which is not too far away, and they do interesting stuff. And they are nice people. And both said yes! Well, that was my slots filled up. Didn't expect that to go so smoothly! I'll write about Tasha when she gets here. Stefan works mainly in lakes; he uses the fossilised jaws of mosquito larvae as climate proxies. And also pollen, and lots of other stuff. And these lakes tend to get stratified in summer, and thus anoxic at the bottom; that means the bottom sediments are annually layered, and barley disturbed. That's perfect for climate reconstruction! He has cracking climate records with a resolution, and age control, I can only dream of.

There was one thing that didn't go as smoothly as I hoped; Stefan did say yes but he also said he'd move to Cambridge first. That's very far! It was only just possible to travel in on the day itself. He would have to get up early...

The day came. I lectured in the morning. Then I texted him to say I assumed no news was good news; he was probably in the intended train and was due to arrive on time? And he was! I picked him up from the station and took him to SOS. There was a bit of time for a cup of coffee and a snack. Then he was on!

I had received apologies from quite some colleagues who said they were interested but not able to make it. That's a pity! And some bloke from the mail campus had mailed to say he wanted ot come for lunch. Excellent! But he wasn't there. Oh dear.

Stefan started talking. It was a good lecture, and it nicely tied into loads of things I teach about! A fair number of my students showed up; I like it that they now hear about stuff such as the Younger Dryas and palaeoproxies and tephrochronology and all that sort of thing from someone else.

When he was done there was some talking afterwards; mainly with one of my students from two years ago, and with Dei. And then it was lunch time! And that was only Stefan and me. Not a big harvest! But people are busy.

After lunch I suggested to drop him off in the mountains. He lives in Cambridge and works in London, so how often does he get to see a mountain from close up? And the weather was OK. I drove to Ogwen Cottage, gave him a map and went back to the office.

When it started to get dark I drove back to pick him up. Then we had a cup of tea, and then went for dinner. The Freckled Angel, which I had tried with Monique, was busy, but the Straits (which I had wanted to try for years) had space for us. It was nice! But I had three glasses of wine and I'm not used to that anymore.

After dinner the visit was as good as over; we were both tired so not inclined to go night-crawling, and the next day I had to be at work again for an open day at 10:30, and he had to have a train back at 11. But it was nice to see him! And his talk was everything I had hoped from it (although he himself was fretting over not discussing the thermohaline circulation in more detail). All good! I'm sure it will be good when Tasha visits too!

 The Laacher See; an important field site for Stefan. Pic by Holger Weinandt.

14 November 2017

Short night in the dig

Normally I meet Miles at about six to go digging. This Thursday, I was still in Bangor at six. He would have to start without me! I almost was even later than I already was, as during the practical I had received an email from Simon, one of the Thursdaynighters, asking if I could pick up a lamp for Miles from him along the way. But I had been busy with the practical and had not sorted this out. I sort of knew where his office was, but not quite. It's also at the wrong end of Bangor. I decided it could wait and drove off.

I walked up in the dark. It was just about light enough for that! I hoped Miles would have made good progress while I was making my way down. And he said he had. Not as much as he had hoped; there tends to be a bit of a gap between what time Miles expects to get to the dig and what time he actually does. But he had made then entrance bigger. That's a bit of a theme; he likes his passages big enough for a horse and carriage. No pushing narrow tunnels forwards for him! That's my job.

As I was late I quite quickly scrambled up with a drill. I drilled the rock that I had figured was actually quite safe, but which would probably best removed anyway. That would make progress easier and the final passage wider. I also had time to charge it and connect everything up. But we wouldn't blast. I had had lunch early because of the practical, so I wanted a tea-and-sandwich break, and Miles had been in there for a while already so he was up for a drink too, so with only modest digging and consuming, time had already been used up. Oh well! Next time.

We need to do more emptying out the chamber I chuck stuff into. There still is a lot to clear, and after blasting the flaking rock there will be a real heck of a lot more! But I hope then we will again make quick progress! We have been at this stage now for a long time...

13 November 2017

The practical

The day approached rapidly! Of the somewhat altered Palaeoceanography practical. The weekend before I reorganised the assignment. I made the actual practical less work; I had assisted on it before, and we had always had three people available to help the students out. But with James and his research group gone, I was the only one left able to teach this sort of thing. I thought. And if it's only you, there needs to be less work!

Then on Tuesday I was teaching in the geography building. Between lectures I ate a sandwich in a corridor. Lynda found me there and invited me into her office. She was about to have some lunch too! And in between bites we had a chat. I mentioned the practical and she said she had done forams in the past. She was willing to help! She's a life-saver.

On the Wednesday I went down to the lab to see if all was ready. To my surprise, one of the lab techs welcomed me with the samples. The missing samples! She had no idea they had been missing. Oh well. Let's use them then, if we have them! I also had a look at the samples; I don't work with planktonic forams very often. I needed to get my eye in again!

On the day itself I started giving the students their spiel. Quite a lot came in a bit late; that was unfortunate. I don't want to do it several times! I told the students what they could expect and what I expected of them. Then I handed them all, in pairs, a sample and a hand-out. They were on their way!

During the walking around I saw I had accidentally given some students samples with the wrong size fraction. Students tend not to question what you do, so I had to notice it myself. The hand-out mentioned the size fraction but well, would I have checked? Probably not. I rectified the situation.

The practical rolled on. Students didn't spend much time picking! The samples were pretty much 100% forams, so you pick a hundred in a jiffy. But then they had to find out what they had. A lot of students had missed the spiel, and hadn't really clocked I was only interested in one species. And they hadn't clocked they may encounter benthic forams, but that they did not feature in the hand-out. The issue with benthic forams is that there are so many species of them, that the hand-out would be the size of the phone book if we would include these. There aren't many planktonic species! And the hand-out was quite clear on that but then again, students don't necessarily read that stuff, not even if they missed the spiel at the beginning.

The identification took the bulk of the time. And some students insisting on going down to species level. But time progressed and at some point I refused to check the identification to higher detail than needed for the assignment. We had the lab until 6PM; I didn't want to be in there longer than that!

During the checking of the IDs it turned out a few students had still worked on the wrong size fraction, and quite some students had worked individually and not intended to hand in their results as a pair. But we got stuff sorted! And by a quarter to six the last students left. And we too, of course. Lynda had stayed all the way until the end. What a woman!

I dumped the data sheets in my office and offered to drive Lynda back to her office. And then it was time for me to drive down to Tanygrisiau! It had been a long day. It was nice to go and lug some rocks around, after a day like that.

Was the practical a success? Well, overall I think it was. Not everything went well. Why did we even have all these different size fractions there if we only use one? I know I should have checked them all but I also know I get rushed if I am faced with a stampede of students. It would help if I make sure I can't pick a wrong sample; that's easier than check them there and then. And how do you get the students to read the hand-out if they haven't quite heard what is expected of them? And next year, if there is a next year, we should try to have three people checking. Stef, the lab tech who had the samples, was willing to be trained up! So I still don't know if I will do this again, but I know what changes I would like to make...

Practical underway

11 November 2017

Revamp the headlamp

I think it was in Norway that I bought a headlight. A black diamond. I can't find mention of it on the blog, but I think I bought it for skiing in the Arctic night. Although I tended to do that in moonlight. Oh well! At some point, before I moved to Britain, I bought that light in question.

When I started caving, it became my light for that. It was a bit weak for that purpose, though, so after some six months I got myself a proper miner's lamp.

Since then I have changed lamp several times. The original Norwegian lamp was now a headlight for hikes and such again. Such as the Swamphike!

The lamp must be quite old now! At least eight years old. Possibly ten. And it still work perfectly well. But over time, the elastic band has become less elastic. It is all floppy and doesn't stay in position. Not good! So after the latest Swamphike I decided to change it. I bought some inch-wide elastic band, cut off the old stuff, and stitched the new stuff into position. It wasn't much work! And now I have a perfectly functional headlight again. I like keeping things going! 

Work in progress

 Works again!

09 November 2017

Small hike between office and boots

When I had to be in Betws-y-Coed anyway, I decided to go out for a small hike. I spend a lot of time in the office these days, and some landscape beauty keeps me sane. So I went to the office in the morning and worked a few hours. It was more comfortable than expected; there was some citizen science day going on so the heating was on! I mainly worked on the upcoming practical. But then I shut down the computer and drove off.

I had picked a small path that lead from the road to Betws to a small mine at the foot of Moel Siabod. It would be a walk of the right length, and it looked nice. And it was! the path started on a slope littered with inclines and drum houses, and soon Moel Siabod appeared in sight, looking all gloomy. Nice! And before you get to the quarry you come past a nice scenic reservoir. Also nice! And there weren't many other people around.

I looked at the ruined buildings and took some pics and went back. Mental health recharged again!

The rural start of the hike, looking back at the valley

In the other direction, Moel Siabod looms

View from the top lake. Lovely!

Strange roof structure in a local building

08 November 2017

New shoes

I am Imelda Marcos! Almost, anyway. I spent decades walking in shoes with orthopaedic soles, but I had successfully ditched them about a year ago. I still have all the shoes I used then. But without the soles, I need smaller shoes! For all purposes. Including hiking. And I had bought a cheapo second-hand pair of light hiking boots to see if I could indeed hike without soles. I could! Then I also bought a larger pair of clunky boots. And used the light boots; I hadn't been on crampons since buying the clunky boots. And they do the job, but the are leather, and when they get wet they don't dry. It takes a long time! And they also smell appallingly when they are wet. Which is always. And somehow my left heel started hurting in them. It was time for another pair and I was thinking of plastic boots. They dry out quicker!

I had tried to buy such a pair on internet, but they were too small. I decided to stop buying such things on internet and only buying stuff I could try first (even though one does not exclude the other; sometimes you find local sellers, so I had managed to buy second hand waterproof trousers and the aforementioned clunky boots through internet, but with trying). But before I even put them out for sale again I had been contacted by a woman who wanted to buy them from me. And she wanted to meet in Betws-y-Coed. That sounded good! I could go for a small hike nearby, and then sell her the shoes, and then pop into the outdoor shop next door (Bangor is hopeless for that) to buy a new pair. So I did!

The woman was very nice and was happy with the boots. We had a small drink together and talked outdoor stuff. It was nice! And then she left and I went next door. I first had them order a new pair of trousers. I went to the shop as these are also best tried first, but they didn't have my size, so I did have a gamble after all and assumed the size down from the too big ones I tried would be good. Oh dear!

Stay tuned for the trousers! But here are the shoes: I don't like the look of them, to be honest, but they do what I want them to. They are light and plastic. And they fit. I'll try them a bit indoors to be sure. But maybe I found myself a nice new pair to last me comfortably for years!

07 November 2017

Another cake

Last year I made my debut in the cake competition. I lasted two rounds!And I figured I needed to show my good will again so when the call came, I registered. I figured I would have time at half term, when there is no teaching.

I was a bit wrong. I had that week for doing some rather intensive marking, and preparation of loads of upcoming stuff including the Palaeoceanography practical. I was working rather hard! I did go climbing on Monday, but on Tuesday I worked late again, and on Wednesday I had hoped to go on an unexpected Wednesday underground trip, but ended up still working late, and then going home not to relax but to bake these bloody cakes.

I'm not a keen baker! It's a sense of duty that makes me do this. And I don't want to keep going so I openly hope I get knocked out in the first round. Last year I didn't. This year I probably would, as I was tired and wanted to go to bed and couldn't be asked to make much of an effort. I decided to bake apple pie as I can do that off by heart. It would also be easy shopping; I had flour, sugar, baking powder and and cinnamon so all I needed to buy was apples, eggs and butter. I thought I had raisins but I didn't, so I used cranberries. And I forgot the baking powder. And I got the dough wrong; it was crumbly. And I couldn't be asked to brush egg on top to make it look good. 

I ended up in bed too late! And the day after I finished the marking (although not data entry and writing a feedback document) and then went up to our dig. The next morning I fired up the oven again as apple pie is nicer when warm. Then I brought it in, in a towel.

All the time I forgot to take a picture. And by the time I thought of it it had been eaten. Oh dear! But trust me: the pie was crumbly and fell apart. I had not added sugar to the Bramley apples and it was all a bit tangy. The cranberry worked well! Its rival was apricot-marzipan cake. I don't really like marzipan but it was very good! But mine was warm. That was appreciated.

Then the email came. It was a draw! We were both through! Blimy that didn't work out. I have to go again. I hope not any time soon!

06 November 2017

Back to the dig after a month

After Miles having been gone and me having been gone it was time to go back to the dig! We had altogether been away for a month. That dig won't dig itself! But we were on a low-key mission without a drill. But that was alright; I was running out of room at the top end. It was time to do some tidying. So I did! Miles wasn't keen to come up so he just cleared the stuff I chucked down.

This configuration meant he was a bit limited; I noticed I could, with some luck, throw rocks straight down. That meant he had to spend most of the time at a very respectful distance. Even though most rocks needed several shoves as they got stranded along the way, you couldn't count on it, so he had to be prepared form them plummeting all the way down.

When I was up I noticed something that worried me a bit; the big rock I was tunnelling under seemed to be sagging. It was leaning against the wall, but the rock was split and looked like it was ow only leaning on a remaining bit of less than an inch thick. Oh dear! Maybe that rock had to be blown up. That would bring a lot down! But sometimes that is unavoidable. At least I had more space for all that rubble now!

Miles in the meantime had been back to Generator chamber (there was bara brith there) and had noticed it seemed there had been people. Strange! We expect to know about it if anyone does. But maybe they were occasional and incidental visitors. The mine gets a lot of footfall over a month... They hadn't caused any mayhem but Miles wasn't too happy about it; he leaves things down there that aren't especially expensive, but are still best if not stolen or tampered with. I suppose it is safe to say that here; would anyone read this blog be keen to get their hands on a key so they could ab down and then, less comfortably, clamber up again, this time with a generator? Or a pump? Not overly likely.

I in the meantime was happy with the amount of progress made. It had been getting cramped; by the time I came down again there was quite some space. And that was the mission for the night!

The splitting rock (coming in from bottom left)

Often this kind of blog post ends with us coming back up, but not this time. When we were driving down we saw a light on the parking lot. Miles wondered if it was a car; to me it looked more like a fire. Hm! What was it doing there? And a fire it was. Luckily we saw, when we got closer, that it was quite far away from my car. It wasn't especially close to anything, fortunately. It was some furniture and boxes and the likes. Fly-tipping and arson combined! And when I was closing the gate something in it exploded. And the fire got higher quickly! We must have seen it soon after it was lit.

 The fire as we found it. It was a lot higher minutes later!

Miles decided to phone the relevant authorities. How much higher would this fire get? And if the wind would pick up things could get worse. I said bye and set off. But when I got home I saw I had a barrage of messages from the Thursday nighters, who had been visiting Hen Ddiffwys. That's on the other side of the valley, and they had seen the glow from there. They were worried it had something to do with us! And not an entirely unthinkable thought; if anyone is capable of accidentally setting his car on fire it's Miles. But we were fine! I quickly confirmed that. Later I would find out they had actually set off to check, but had bumped into the fire engine which was refilling with water and of which the associated people had told them all was well. Nice of them!

And the next day I checked my pictures of previous episodes in the dig; the rock had already been splitting before! For decades, probably. I might still want to blow it up. Next time we get there!

04 November 2017

Arbitrary post with charming dog

I've been mentioning Pi, my favourite dog, for years now! But there rarely is photographic evidence. I tend to be busy throwing things when he's around. But some time ago I was visiting dog and owners and Guy took a few pictures of us. And I'd like to share them! I've a bit of a crush...

02 November 2017

Swamphike 2017

It was that time again! Half term in October, so the Dutch hikers were on their way again for the annual swamp hike. Lovely! I saw a car pull up at exactly the predicted time, and I scampered out to greet them all. This year we would be with six.

We got ready. We did some re-packing and last time changing and some talking through the route. And then we were off! We would drive down to Waunfawr in two vehicles, leave my car, squeeze into the rental car the others had brought, and drove to Dolbenmaen. Or rather, to Porthmadog, as we had forgot to buy more bread in Menai Bridge. But that's only five miles further. And then we could park up in Dolbenmaen and start walking! It was beautiful there, and the weather was good. It was only 3PM and we were off! Excellent.

Where it all started!

Soon after we left the road (which was after minutes) the navigating became a bit tricky; the public footpath had sort of vanished and we had to improvise a bit. But we went in the right direction. We ended up on a slightly different path but all was under control. Even when we crossed a brook only to decide the most efficient way on was crossing the same bridge again and finding out own way. After a while Sleutel saw a stile and got us back on track. The path was mildly boggy and the views were nice!
Nice view into Cwm Pennant (seen from the other side with Monique)

We walked up to a small lake I had seen on the map and which seemed a good place to stop for the night. We had only walked two hours but it was enough! The field was a bit boggy but we were already in absolute nothing. It was rather scenic! And I quickly went for a bath at the lake. Viking had lugged six cans of bokbier onto the hill. We enjoyed them! And then some lovely cheese fondue courtesy of Erik. This year we didn't have Roelof, so we could go wild on cheese.

Our first camp site

We sat outside for a while, talking away, and watching some strange wandering beam of light which we attributed to a chainsaw murderer. The it was bedtime. For the night, I swapped places with Erik, as I was still a bit under the weather and I had coughed myself awake 2.30 AM the previous night. I didn't want to do that to Viking too! So I got a night in Erik's comfortable small tent and I didn't cough. Good!

The next morning it was a bit foggy. No worries; it might lift. We could either walk over Nantlle ridge, or through Cwm Pennant. We chose the ridge! And it started a bit difficult with an invisible path, but it came and went a bit and it wasn't too bad. Navigating was easy! And it was rather swampy.

What I saw when I zipped open the tent


After coffee out job was to climb the first peak of the ridge. That went OK! Part of the way there even was a path (which was not on the map). On the ridge there was a path, but it went over a lot of loose slippery rocks so it wasn't very fast. And the views disappeared again.

Hikers in the mist

Where the path veered left at Craig Pennant we lost it and found a bloke I had met during the CasCare training, and his family. That was fun! Soon we found the path back and moved on. We ate lunch on a ridge from which we occasionally had some view. We were getting a bit tired!

Small hikers appear on a large hill

We had to climb the next ridge, to Mynydd Tal y Mignedd, which was considerable. By then we were really tired. We had more to go! But the day was drawing to a close. After reaching Trum y Ddysgl we decided to cut the walk short by bush-whacking down to a logging road an d skipping the last peaks. We could have camped in the woods but we decided to push on; that way a pub lay! I'd been there before...

It got dark while we walked back to Rhyd Ddu. We needed our lights at the end! I had hoped to camp at Llyn y Dywarchen as it looks nice, but we wouldn't manage that; it would have to be Llyn y Gader. Oh well! It's not an evident place, and we couldn't find a good spot for the tents. We decided to just camp on the path itself. Nice and flat! So we quickly pitched them and then went to the pub. Beer!

The lake as we found it

Dinner was nice. Afterwards we went back. After Nantlle Ridge with a big bag I was quite sweaty, so even though it was rather late and we would pack up early the next day because we were on a public footpath, I grabbed my towel and had a quick wash at the river. Nice! And I slept like a log.

The next day it was clear. We got up early as we were on a public footpath. We packed up the tents, walked to Rhyd Ddu station, and sat down for breakfast. It was nice! And it was only 9AM when we set off on the Rhyd Ddu path. It was a lovely day! And it would be up for hours, but that was OK. We scampered a bit, had coffee on the slope, and walked on. There were more people out, but it wasn't annoyingly many. The views were amazing! Not a cloud to be seen. And you look out over beautiful Cwm Clogwyn, which is nice. The ridge of Bwlch Main is spectacular. And then we were up! It was only about 12.30 and we were at the peak. It was busy there! There were trains going so the top was a crowd. Oh well. We admired the view and quickly scampered on. We wanted to come down Llanberis Path for a bit, so we could walk on until the Snowdon Ranger path and Miner's and Pyg tracks veered off. That would get rid of some of the people!

An early start

Breakfast while the sun comes out

A lovely day! 

Walking Lechog
Bwlch Main
Llechog seen from the other side, and Nantlle Ridge and Mynydd Mawr in the distance

The top (and its cafe) in view!

Amazing views from the top

It's busy there!

When the Llanberis Path veered left we went straight on to have some lunch. The views were nice but it was a bit cold. There were clouds appearing! We quickly went on while the cloud descended further. We took the path to Clogwyn Coch mine and upon reaching the first ruin, put down our bags. The more energetic among us went scouting for a camping spot while the rest of us lay down. We were tired!

Taking clothes off above Llyn Du'r Arddu


Henco found an amazing spot and we went down. We pitched the tents nice and early. Most of us then went for a wash. Viking suggested even a swim, but it was very cold. I chickened out! But the wash was nice. And then we sat down for some whisky! It turned out we had some four supplies of it, but they hadn't come out yet. It was nice!

We later decided to cook in the mill ruin as the wind had picked up. It was nice and atmospheric! And the evening colours were nice. It was all good.

Evening colours over the lake

Erik is impressed with the whisky selection

Dinner time

That night I slept well, in spite of having drunk so much tea I had to get up at 1AM to go for a leak. That turned out well as Viking's air mattress was a bit leaky, and my departure gave him the opportunity to re-inflate it. All good! But when Erik started to wander around in the morning I wasn't really done sleeping. Oh dear. But I gathered myself.

It was foggy again! Quite atmospheric. We had breakfast and decided to go down via the Llanberis Path. It was quiet at this hour and in this fog! We moved fast. And when we got out of the cloud the first thing we saw was a bloke crawling up the path. He was raising money for charity! Blimey he wasn't doing the easy thing. We gave what we could (I had to do it afterwards as I had no cash whatsoever with me; you can do that too, here) and moved on. At Hebron station we crossed the valley, and took the path through Maesgwm, back to Nant y Betws. It was still foggy! We had some company of two mountainbikers we kept leapfrogging. At some point another biker came the other way, so he was going downhill; he shot past. And turned out to have left his dog behind! Poor thing. The uphill-going bikers stayed with it until its owner returned.

If you look closely you may see breakfast folk in the mill ruin

Crossing the stream at the bottom of the valley

When we got to the pass we had lunch. And decided to walk to the road. Any other option would leave us in the fog! And upon reaching the road we saw there was a marathon going on; we clearly caught the tail end. That meant a lot of people around, smiley people, and also that all cars were used to pedestrians on the road. We stomped along until, at Betws Garmon, we could leave the road and get back onto small paths.

Unexpected sign on a path

By that time it was time to look for a place to stay. There was a copse to the left and a quarry ahead; we chose the quarry. To our surprise, though, we were kept away from it with tall sturdy fences. Weird! And not very Welsh. We decided to walk on a bit and follow a logging road up into the next copse until we would find a better place. At its end we did. Good! We were all tired.

We pitched the tents and I washed. Then we had plenty of time for silliness, whisky, and spekkoek. Nice! It was the last night...

The last camping site

The next morning it was clearer. We had breakfast and packed up. We tried to walk back to the road via a nice small path but it vanished in a logging area. We gave up and walked along the road. Oh well! It wasn't far. Soon we reached the car. We dumped the backpacks and checked if the local pub was open. It was! So Viking and I said bye and went back to the car, drove to Dolbenmaen, retrieved the hire car from there, and returned. We picked up the others and, via a supermarket, went to my place. There we had a feast of a lunch, and the others showered.

Then it was time to say goodbye! It was another successful episode of the Swamphike, as far as I am concerned. So what next? Will it be Wales again next year? Who knows!