31 December 2018

Post-Christmas tidying

I had hoped to do lots of things on the house after coming back from the Netherlands! But it didn't go as planned, as I had foolishly not counted on my standard Christmas illness that impeded me quite a lot. But I got some things done.

As the living room and landing had been building sites from early on, they had accumulated layers of dust and dirt, and piles of tools and screws and bits and bobs like that. But now I had plastered walls and ceilings, and a working stove, I had started to use the landing as an improvised living room. So it needed to be made to look better! And as the painter wasn't supposed to make a big mess, I could now clean the floor, finally knowing it wouldn't immediately afterwards be mucked up again by tradespeople. Or myself.

I started by giving the room a lampshade. That already helps making it more homely! Then I emptied out the cupboard, and cleaned it. I also tidied up the window sills of the landing and living room. And I installed some netting! I didn't want to put up proper curtains yet, as I would have to take them down again when the painter would arrive. Netting doesn't stop much but it's something.

I also scrubbed the floor; it still had lots of plaster-related stuff on. And I oiled it with the same oil as the ceiling had enjoyed. And that made all the difference! And there is still a lot to do: I want to take all wall-mounted things (within reason) down in the bathroom before the painter comes. And strip the wallpaper. And strip wallpaper in hallway and bedroom too. And fill holes! And make a cupboard. But I have done at least something and I have to be satisfied with that. Health comes first. But the difference is noticable already!

Scrubbed vs not yet scrubbed

Oiled vs not yet oiled

30 December 2018


It was that time of year again! Time to head for the Netherlands for Christmas. I worked until Friday the 21st,and set off early on the Saturday towards the airport. I made sure to leave early; it would be a day on which quite a lot of people would travel, and I figured maybe quite some planes that had been destined for Gatwick would end up in Manchester. I drove up uneventfully, at least until reaching the airport; there I first was rather confused by my exit to the car park wasn't there anymore. Oh dear! I had to drive on to somewhere I could park to check my phone to see how I would end up where I wanted to be after all. And on my way to the terminal I walked past what looked liked the aftermath of an awful bike accident. I hope it wasn't as bad as it looked.

I went to my mother first, as usual. And left quite soon after! There is a tradition of getting as many members of my generation (on my dad's side) to go out for dinner around Christmas, and this year we did that the first evening. We were only three (the maximum we have managed has been four) but it was nice. My sister had picked a nice restaurant! And the waiting staff were willing to bring us carafe after carafe of water. I hope next time we'll be four again! Or maybe even five. There are seven of us in total, but personal relations and the fact we live in four different countries makes it unlikely we'll ever be complete. And after catching up (my cousin had a new job, which she enjoyed!) we went our separate ways. I went back to my mother.

Building work in Amersfoort

The next day I went east, to see Monique. It would be the second time in her new house! And with her new dog. The house hadn't changed, but the dog was much quicker convinced I posed no threat. We discussed houses (her parents had only just moved house too) and that brought the topic to a nearby museum village. That sounded right up my street! It was something a bit odd; an actual village where people live, but at the same time, a museum. In a way. You can just walk in and out of the village, and you see people commute in and out in normal cars, but it's clear there are big restrictions on what you can do with your house. I liked it! And we bought some local cheese and beer.

 Monique in Orvelte
I spent the night at Monique's and left the next morning, heading for Amsterdam. There I would see Roelof. And we would do something cultural! But first things first. When I walked in he already had a glass of water ready for me. He knows me! Then coffee followed. And then we decided on a film: Roma. It had got good reviews and the trailer looked good too! So after a while we wandered to Eye, in Amsterdam Noord.

 View from Eye

When we got home we had a great (of course) and Mexican dinner. How fitting! And then it was bedtime. And the next morning it was great weather. I was up before Roelof and Micha; I should remember to bring some instant coffee if I visit them, as the endemic way of making some in grinding beans and making espresso; that's enough to wake half of Amsterdam up. And I tend to be the first to be up.

Roelof and Micha decided to take advantage of the great weather by going on a walk and invited me along, but I declined: I wanted to go back to my mum. So I did!

 Amersfoort Station overpass

My mother had mixed up what day I would be visiting her so was surprised when I appeared. But that was OK! I was there. And now we had some time to properly catch up.

We also went on, by our standards, quite a walk. That went well! And after that I had a shower and put on a Christmas dress. And that may have been a mistake. A dress is rarely as warm as an outfit with trousers and jumpers and such. And at some point I got cold! My mother lent me a scarf and a cardigan and plonked me next to the radiator. And that worked! But I slept a bit strangely and woke up under the weather.

That day was for other family. After breakfast I went to my dad. We had some time to ourselves, talking family matters. And then we went altogether to Hilversum, for the Christmas dinner at my sister's. It took a while! The roads were busy. And I was a bit weak. During pre-dinner drinks I was mainly slouched on the couch. Dinner itself didn't improve things! I struggled to stay upright. So my sister made sure I had some food in me and then redirected me back to the couch. I have no idea how long I was there. After a while the company came back, poured me another tea, and bundled me in my dad's car who took me back to my mum. I had been a very boring guest! But well, this happens. Last year I fell ill shortly after coming back. The year before that I was poorly at the start of my visit. In 2015 I managed in good health! As an exception.

The next morning I felt a bit better. And I managed to get home without problems! Once there I was out of energy but at least the travel had been uneventful. I hope I can do a 2015 again in 2019 and stay healthy during my entire stay! But even if I pay the price for it, seeing everybody is worth it!

Morning sun over the Koppelpoort

28 December 2018

Painter booked in

After the plasterer comes the painter! Before the place is painted you can't really use it. No point placing furniture where it only gets in the way. And yes I could do it myself and start now, but my main worry is not my house but the strain exerted on me by my job. So I'll just focus on getting through this academic year and let someone else do the painting! I can do some details like patching up the damage done by the electrician in the bedrooms, or a cupboard, or some skirting boards. But the big stuff I'll have a professional do.

As I didn't know much about the painters in the area I had plonked the job on a tradespeople comparison site. One bloke bit. He came over to have a look. I was a bit suspicious! He was nice enough, but he said he would book me in already before we had agreed on a price. And he wanted to know what my budget was. I had seen that with stove installers; say you can spend no more than £X and you get a quote that totals up to, you guessed it, £X. I said I had to wait and see when the plasterers would do the work. After that we could make more detailed plans!

Then the plasterers appeared. they were good! And they recommended a painter. I figured it would be good to have two quotes; that would tell me if the initial guy would be taking the piss. I phoned this one up and he agreed to come and have a look the day after the initial guy would come over to actually give me a quote. But as soon as the initial guy heard that there would be another quote, he didn't want to give a number. He wanted to now the other person's quote first! There we go.

The recommended guy showed up and was quite pleasant. And my dodgy-alerts didn't go off. He gave me a quote and a time when he could start. It was all reasonable! But the other guy had first dibs. And he could start earlier. And he went under the other person's quote. So I said he had the job and asked him to send a quote in writing (I had learned from stove people and chimney sweeps it pays off to have documentation). He said he would that evening.

Then I got a text message that evening. He pulled out! I said I was surprised but was secretly relieved. He then explained he thought I had been rude to him. I think he meant that I was guarded when I thought he had been playing me. I did apologise because I am happy to be on guard, but I do not intend to hurt people's feelings. He then sent a big text with lots of needy nonsense (at least, that's how I read it) and I stopped answering. And I told the other guy he had the job. I think it's better this way! If you have a bloke in your house for at least a week it's best if you feel comfortable in their presence. And I feel better with the second, recommended one...

And for practicalities: he intends to start January 14. I look forward to the results!

26 December 2018

Stoves, finally!

I thought I would have stoves early on ! The stove men were pretty much the first to get started. But they were the sort of types to do half a day of work, and then disappear for weeks, if not months. In April they pulled the old fireplaces out. In August they placed a lintel. In September I got them a piece of slate for the hearth. In November I started to despair when the work looked shoddy. But in the week before Christmas they came back and finished it off! The bloke had told me he's have a knee op on the Saturday before Christmas, so he wanted it done before then. I wanted that too! And one night that week I came home and saw two boxes and enormous amounts of pipe. The stoves! And the liners! They had been!

A day later I was at work when the Stove man texted me. Did I have my car key at home? They needed access to the roof, and my car was in the way! But I had it on me. I try to remember leaving it at home when I commute by bicycle but in ~50% of cases I forget. And I couldn't go and bring it! Would take too long on bike, and I had a meeting to attend. So I suggested he come get it. They had a car at their disposal. I gave the key to the SOS receptionist so I could just go to my meeting, and that worked.

When I came home that night the stoves were in position! I was warned not to use them immediately, as the seals had to set first. But the next day I should try them! And the next day was a Thursday so I was home too late, but on Friday I made the first little fire! I had moved my smallest comfy chair to the landing, and added a side table, so it had the basics. It was great to sit underneath the plastered ceiling and feel all snug! And it will get better with paint, curtains etc, but the beginning is there. May I spend many a snug hour there!

24 December 2018

Plasterer is done

The first day, the plasterers went through the house like a whirlwind. They didn't leave until 7.30! And the next day, I didn't get home until 11PM or so so they were gone, but they clearly had done a lot more. And they would finish on Saturday. I expected them to work for a few hours but they just kept going. There was a lot more to do than I thought!

On Thursday and Friday I found some coffee mugs scattered around so at least they had had some breaks. I had noticed they had used up all the sugar, so on Saturday I made sure to go get some more. And milk. And biscuits. But these guys (on Saturday it mainly was just two of them) didn't touch a mug all day! Not that I have evidence of, anyway. And I could see them get tired. And they must have got hungry. When it got past 6PM their phones started ringing and partners seemed to be inquiring how long they would be. By the time they were done I had had dinner and washed up!

It wasn't over then. They had come in a normal car and had to leave all the gear behind. Mike, the head plasterer, would come the next day to pick it up. But he inspected the work, and decided some things needed tidying up. So he would be back the day after that to finish off! But that shouldn't take him very long.

I now have a house that looks like a house! And not a building site! It's not finished, of course; it needs a coat of paint. And stoves. And radiators. And several new floors. And some joinery things sorted out. And then furniture! And then I'm sorted! And then  it will be time to have the garage re-roofed... and maybe the kitchen re-tiled... and so on! I don't think this project will be properly finished soon. But with the plastering done I can imagine having a living room quite soon! And I'll love it!

21 December 2018

Thursdaynighters Christmas Dinner

I don't think I've ever blogged about our annual Christmas meal! One reason is that I don't tend to take pictures, and I know a blog post without can be a bit dull. And what is there to say about Christmas dinners? Not much. They are a bit same-ish! You gather, have a drink, have too much food, then perhaps have more drinks, and go home. We quite often go to The Royal Oak in Betws-y-Coed. We had once gone to a hotel in Caernarvon. And this year we were in the university! That would feel a bit odd. And the restaurant in the Main Arts building is not an academic place, but still.

We gathered in Bellevue. We had time for one beverage! And then we moved on to the university building. Many of us had never been! Not to the restaurant, anyway. But it looks OK. A bit more official than the Thursdaynighter group, but hey ho.

I am quite the lightweight these days! I had one beer in the pub and one glass of wine in the restaurant, and it felt like a lot of alcohol. And my dinner was vegan! The only vegetarian option they offered happened to be vegan. I can see why; that way you cater for all without having too many items on the menu. And it was good! But too much, of course; I couldn't finish (even half-finish) desert.

Just after we had had tea Miles announced he had to go. No after-dinner drinks for us! I had accepted an offer of a lift home from him; he would drive straight past my house (quite unlike most TNers who live the other way). So we skedaddled! I sort of wish we would start these events a bit earlier; our reservation was not until 19:45 and we showed up late too. And then you have to rush home as soon as the food is eaten! But it was lovely to see everyone. Maybe next year I take a picture too!

20 December 2018

Strange social interactions

I think I'm generally OK with social interactions! But I recently had one and I struggle to make head or tail of it. A handful of colleagues and I were just having a chat over lunch when I started answering a comment by a chap called Brian, when Jaco cut straight across. I wasn't pleased with that and called him out. He ignored me! And just kept talking. I called out again. The same effect. As if I wasn't there! That was so insulting and humiliating. I muttered something like 'well, screw this then', packed my stuff, and stormed off. I caught a sympathetic glance from one of the chaps, and a lady I had to squeeze past squeezed my hand in sympathy. But nobody spoke. I went back to my office feeling rather upset.

Some time later I saw Jaco walk past, to his office. He didn't look or stop to say anything. As if it hadn't happened! That didn't improve anything. It upset me. We had to re-organise an entire module! What now? I couldn't really break all ties with him, but as he had treated me like a sub-human I wished I had that freedom. Not that that was something I'd likely do; I am not one to bear a grudge. But having the choice would have been nice. The following lunch breaks we both attended I was a bit on edge. I made sure to not let him get away with such things again.

A week or two later I bumped into Marjan. She said she hadn't seen me in ages and missed me. And it had been silly busy and that doesn't help, but I confessed I had also been hesitant to initiate social contact as I wasn't so keen on Jaco these days.

The next day Jaco came into my office, asking if I had some time to talk. Marjan had mentioned our conversation! But he had no idea what she had been talking about. He seemed to have honestly not noticed! I think that's really weird, but it's either that or he deserves an Oscar. He apologised and we hugged. The air is cleared! I'm glad. But still a bit puzzled. How can you not notice if the person next to you storms off? But at least we have a solution for if this happens again; if I prod him in addition to addressing him verbally he'll notice me. But I hope it doesn't happen again! And I hope Jaco hopes it too!

18 December 2018

Plasterer starts!

The first plasterer I contacted first kept postponing the moment he could come and start the work. And then he stopped giving me updates. And then he stopped answering my phone. That was no use! But then I just googled another one. And he at some point became difficult to reach but that wasn't because he was trying to get out of the work. He got back in touch he would appear the next day between 8 and 8.30. Great!

He was almost as good as his word! A bit after 8.30 he appeared with three wingmen. And they set to work! I didn't know what was happening to me.

I went to Graduation that afternoon, and hoped to be able to do a Thursdaynighter trip afterwards. After the ceremony ended I quickly checked my mail. A lot of people had pulled out! Paul was wondering if anyone was up for it. I was! I quickly mailed that and then went to my car and drove home. There I saw the trip had been cancelled. And I heard a strange sound. Was my engine falling apart? No! It was a plasterer mixing cement. They were still there! It was ~4:45.

I had a look. The place looked completely different! And they weren't anywhere near done for the day. As they had a ladder on the staircase I went in through the kitchen door, tidied up my caving kit, drank tea (I was desiccated after a tea-free ceremony), ate something, went out to buy some milk as they had gone through a lot, and then went to my home office to do some extra work. They didn't stop until 7:30! Blimey. And they would be back the next day!

Plasterboard on the ceiling in the landing

The one fireplace

The other fireplace

Plasterboard on the living room ceiling

17 December 2018


As I had never been employed to teach more than one term in a row before, I had never bothered to go to graduation. I didn't feel involved! They didn't feel like my students. But now I am permanent and I decided my time had come. especially since my own dissertation student would get his diploma. I signed up! And that means indicating what sort of academic robes you will need. And that is rather confusing if you're not British (or of some other robe-loving nationality).

I had always wondered what they'd make me wear. The idea is that you wear the robe of the university where you got your highest academic qualification. And in my case, that would evidently be the Vrije Universiteit. But Dutch universities don't let people other than professors wear robes. So I can't wear a robe from a UK university as I didn't graduate there, and I can't wear a robe from a Dutch university as I graduated robelessly there. So now what? And I still don't know.

I rocked up to the 'robe chamber' in good time to see what would happen. And they gave me a nice blue robe! I have no idea what university this represents. Or maybe they bought it from a theatre company that had a play with a fictional one. Nobody else knew either! And they dressed me. Seems to be standard that they fit it on you! I'm not used to that. I also got a very fetching hat, of which I soon saw it was a standard Bangor University Doctor's hat. The Doctores don't wear the same hats as the Bachelors or Masters, of course. One is a class society or one isn't!

The robe room

Don't I look academic

I then went to the Council Chamber; a very pompous room where all robed staff members were gathering. We were together with Psychology, Geography and Computer Science. There were only three of us; the Head of School, another professor in marine biology and me. And then people from the other schools.

After a while we were asked to line up two by two in the corridor, with the bedel (clearly the same word as the Dutch pedel) at the head. We were a funny bunch! People were commenting on each other's gaudy gowns, and were taking selfies, and being generally silly. I ended up lined up with Chris, from Psychology, whom I knew from Welsh class. And after an eternity we started walking. And suddenly this giggly bunch turned solemn, or at least on the outside. I did feel a bit in two minds about the whole thing; on the one hand, all this bombast (the hall we proceeded through was pretty bombastic too) would clearly help make the day feel special for the graduates. But it also felt rather aloof. A bit like it was all meant to make us feel better than the rest. Which I don't like!

We walked into the room. I couldn't see any of our SOS candidates. We sat down on the stage; I was just behind the pro-VC who was leading the ceremony. (The VC had just gone on 'early retirement' only a few days before.) The organ was blasting.

The ceremony went underway. A poem was recited, harp was played, and then the actual candidates lined up and got their diploma one by one. And soon my own student Pete was called forward! He had struggled to get to this point but he had made it.

Later the PhD students had their turn. And our own Catriona appeared! Looking happy. And then soon after it was over and we: candidates, relatives and staff, were lead outside. There one could have one's picture taken if one so wanted. A lot of mortarboard hats were thrown in the air! But the disadvantage of graduating in December, and being the last batch of the day, is that photography is not helped by the levels of natural light.

I found Pete, and then later Catriona, and could finally congratulate them. But it was cold outside! And people didn't linger. So after a while I went back inside to give the gown back, and then walked back to my car. And this is supposed to be the first time of many I will do this! As a rule, all staff should really be there. And this was a very small graduation, but in summer I should be back, and then there should be many of us; both staff and new graduates!

Catriona the new doctor and me!

15 December 2018

Another Welsh course done

Doesn't time fly when you're having fun! It seems only yesterday I started the latest Welsh course. And now it's ended! It was nice while it lasted. And it almost went out with a bang! For the course we read a book; one or two chapters as homework each time. It was a story written by Tudur Owen, a comedian from around here, and it dealt with the true story of his dad having been convinced to change his farm into an improvised zoo for a while. It wasn't a very good idea! And the story was a bit embellished but the essence was true. And we knew that.

Elwyn confessed he had asked Tudur Owen to be there at the last course night. We could find out from him what exactly was true and what a bit exaggerated! But he had had to cancel at the last minute. A pity! It would have been a nice surprise.

Elwyn had talked to him, though, during the discussions had about him first being there and then not being there. And he could report on the veracity of several of the events in the book! So some of our curiosity was satisfied anyway.

And now? Well, in January there will be another course starting. It's just a bloke talking about local history! I look forward to that. I like history! And I still have a lot to learn.

14 December 2018

Another weekend of work

It's always good to try to get one batch of marking done before you get the next one! but when planning this semester I had not paid much attention and had accidentally put two deadlines on the same day. Not a good idea! But now I had to live with it. The first batch was a bit of a pain in the bum. It was an assignment on the field day we had had in October. We had gone to two sites and they had to write both sites up. Very many students wrote them up in one big blob! So you had to scroll through the entire document to find the bit you were currently marking. A pain! And quite a number of students had ignored the word limit. And I also had forgot to change the marking criteria from the year before. Bummer. And next year I want to do it all differently. But by the time Friday ended I still hadn't finished that batch, and it was only the next Friday that the next batch would come in! Oh dear. I better get a move on. So I marked over the weekend. At least I got the first batch done. But by that time it was so late I didn't want to start on the next batch. But let's hope that one goes faster! I may be marking again the weekend after if it doesn't....

Unrelated pictures of particularly nice pink morning light

13 December 2018

Not going underground with the Yorkies

Every December, the York Caving Club comes to North Wales. The first few times (2014, 2015, 2016) I managed to get out and go underground with them. But last year it didn't work out. My job has become more demanding! And last year I had planned to go have dinner with them on the Friday night and then see what their plans would be. But I had tried to contact them about what time and had failed. I'm not driving to Garreg without knowing it would be worth it! Maybe they would be in some unnamed pub or something. In the end I didn't go, and just worked that evening, and the rest of the weekend. And this year it got barely better.

I had loads of marking on! But I sometimes need some social contact, so I decided that this year, I would manage to see them on the Friday. So after work I drove down, made a bit of a hash of parking somewhere out of they way (it's a tiny hut with very restricted parking, and there would probably be million Yorkies attending) and then walked up in the pitch dark. I walked in and found early birds Matt, Gary and Toby. That was nice! Matt and Gary were working on a game of Scrabble. Very domestic!

Gary was already bored with the game so I stepped in. And while playing we caught up. It was nice to see them! Later two more chaps appeared, one of which (Chuck) I knew. And then later a bunch more: the two Johns, and Jerry and his wife Tegs, and a Scottish lady called Rachel. Now it was really full there! But it was good to see them. And they all wanted to know how the Thursdaynighters' Simon was.

Not too long after the last batch arrived I decided to go home. I was tired and had a long weekend ahead of me! But it was nice to see them. And I told Matt that if he and Gary ever want to come up without the others they are most welcome to my guest bedroom. His eyes lit up when I said that! I think they'll take the offer one day. Would be nice!

12 December 2018

Palaeoceanography talks

Last year, it had been quite a momentous part of the year. The student presentations in my Palaeoceanography module. This had been designed by James back in the day, and had been altered by me. The students are subdivided into six groups, and all six tackle an interesting climate event from the past 200 million years. They make a full hour (so actually 50 minutes) lecture about it and present it to their peers. The material is part of the exam material! The idea is that they hopefully know a lot about the topic they present themselves, and that they also learn from their peers. They only have to answer questions about two of the events, so even if four presentations aren't very good they can still be well-prepared.

As they need to know everything they need to know to get a perfect score on an exam question, I need to be razor sharp and notice anything they may either miss out or misrepresent. And I have to mark the presentation and time it. And notice who asks questions, as that is also one of the things their mark gets based on. The discussion afterwards is part of the scientific discourse! So I have to have the six topics in clear focus in my head. Last year I did the module the first time and had had to do some very extensive reading up to know it all. Ideally, I would have a powerpoint lecture ready myself, but when would I have time to make that? That's a pipe dream.

This year it started well. The first presentation, on Mesozoic Black Shales (riveting, I know), went well. The presenters were a bit ambiguous in their decision on whether these shales are so black because of production or preservation reasons, but otherwise they did very well. They should have been a bit more confident in their delivery; too much notes were used! But one can't have it all.

Then a group talked about the PETM (a very warm event, probably related to methane emissions, some 55 million years ago). I needed to step in and add to that presentation. And re-explain a few things that had gone wrong. I try so hard to weed out my students' misconceptions but it doesn't work all too well! And the same held for the third talk, about to what extent Drake Passage contributed to the glaciation of Antarctica.

The second day was a bit heavier. We had two student presentations, both which needed serious focussing and rectifications at the end. One was about to what extent the Himalayas had contributed to the glaciation of Antarctica, and the other about what Panama had to do with the glaciation of Greenland. Then there was the Friday seminar, about modelling if and how creatures get dispersed during events like the storm from earlier this year, which had destroyed the Holyhead Marina. It could be a good thing; creatures need to disperse, after all. But if it is invasive and harmful species that disperse it's not so much appreciated.

I chaired the seminar too. It was technically a talk in my colleague's series, but he had given the impression he didn't introduce his speakers anymore, and although he turned out to be willing to introduce this one he also had to liaise with Assembly Members earlier the day and wasn't sure if he would be back in time. So I introduced her, sat through her talk, and went back to immediately continue the student lectures. Quite many students hadn't come back after that! But that's their loss. The last talk, on the Messinian Salinity Crisis, was one of those where I didn't have a lot to add. My guess is that students will largely choose to answer questions about the first and last talk! We'll have to see. But this event is over now and I can go back to my marking!

 Artist's impression of the MSC, from Wikipedia. Made by Paubahi.

11 December 2018

Shaft in Parc

We would be back in Parc! The previous time, we had restored a ladderway; this time, we had our eye on an alternative route down. Around the corner from that ladderway, a shaft goes down. We had never done anything with it, but some time ago, David had decided he thought he knew where it went. And he wanted to know if you could get through!

If you go down the ladderway, you get to a sublevel. A bit further down there's a winze that ends in an ore chute. If you pop out there, and you walk some ten meters to the right, there is another ore chute, but it is clogged. Would that where that shaft goes? So we went in to have a look.

At the entrance, we first cleared the channel through which the mine drains. If we lower the water a bit it's easier to get in without overtopping your boots! And when that was done we went to the shaft. David rigged it and Edwyn got ready to drop it. David and Phil went down the ladderway to meet him on the other side. Paul and I stayed at the top. I had a cup of tea!

  Edwyn starting his way down

Deviation in place

Down he goes!

After a while we heard Edwyn mention the shaft was blocked with so much gunk it wasn't worth trying to dig. We figured that would be it.  But then some clanging and shouting and prodding followed and it was clear the men were giving it a go anyway. After a while I got bored and went down the ladderway myself. We had two ropes, but I was hesitant to go down the shaft, as it would be very difficult to do without kicking some small bits of rubble down, and even small bits hurt if they fall from height. 

I found Phil prodding the chute from below. David was looking on. It was all very interesting but I figured they may soon call it a day. As they had nicked the ladder at the bottom of the chute I had come from (I had to come down on the rope) it would be a bit of a faff to get back up. I figured they'd follow soon so I started my way up so as not to cause a queue. But I was being pessimistic! I made my way all the way up and was greeted still with clanging and shouting and prodding coming from the shaft. And then Paul said he heard voices come up the ladderway. OK! And the rope had gone slack. Edwyn must have managed to slither down the chute, and climb back up the ladders! So I descended a bit, removed the deviation, and then pulled the rope up. Day done! 

We went out again, and changed. It wasn't very late and I was glad. The day after would be a tiring day at work again!

10 December 2018

The first paint on the wall

Painting is generally the last thing you do! But there is a cupboard in the landing I had my eye on for a painting trial. Rose used it as a place to hang coats. I figured it was the wrong place for that, and I decided to use it as a traditional cupboard with shelves. Jitske very obligingly ripped out the rod from which the coat-hangers hung, and the hat shelf. Now what was left was a mint green recess! And I want to slowly rid the house of all the mint green that's currently there.

This cupboard was a good place to start; I intend the landing to be the first room to be finished, but of course it isn't finished until that cupboard is done. And it's a small-scale project; I can do that myself before the workmen come.

One day I filled up the holes with polyfilla, and then one drizzly Sunday I took up a brush for the first time. That green is fading! And one coat is clearly not enough, but with two coats I'm sure the painfulness of the original colour will have vanished. And then I should make shelves! Probably quite some work, but then I have a lovely cupboard. And then when plasterer and painter and stove installer have been (and I have put the radiator back, and the curtain rails, and have replaced the door) the place is done. I can't wait!

The first splashes of paint! 

No more mint green to be seen! It took three coats...

09 December 2018

Lecturing done

I actually quite like lectures. But I'm also glad if I don't have to do it! Especially if I have a lot of marking work to do too. I had two rather big modules this semester, and then three lectures from another module tacked on the end. And of course the lectures I did for my colleague who was on sick leave. But that's all done now! For one of the modules I'm l done now, regarding contact hours; for the other one I have two days of student presentations left. And now I have to big batches of marking to get through! And I want to get them done before batch 3 is submitted!

Small Sunday walk

It was one of those weekends with lots of chores, and a fair amount of marking to boot! And not much time for fun. But I get cabin fever if I don't get out at all so on Sunday I decided to go on a small stroll. I had seen some public footpaths nearby, going in the Tregarth direction; I thought there was scope for a nice walk there. The weather wasn't all that (it rained about half of the time) so it was very quiet. Only some dog walkers were out too! And one tenacious runner.

It was only an hour, but it did me good! And I also have explored a bit more of the area. Luckily, there is more where that came from!

View on Tregarth

Looking back on Bethesda

05 December 2018

Back to long Thursday nights

I had done two ThursdayNighter trips in a row, which ended rather early. And I liked it! But it couldn't last. When a trip to Blaenau slate was announced I knew it was likely to last quite a while. I decided to go anyway; otherwise I knew I would probably be working all evening and that's not good. I did team up with Phil again; not only is that rather nice; it also means no unnecessary faffing.

We would be with only five; David, Paul and Chris appeared too. We first would look at a hole somewhere David had seen in passing. It was probably not much as otherwise we'd know about it, but well, curiosity is a strong force. We had a look! In rather bad weather. And it was a nice big wide tunnel but it only went straight ahead to a collapse. Oh well! Now we know.

Then we went into a more substantial mine. I had been before but struggled a bit to remember it all. After some scampering we sat down for a cup of soup. Then we explored further! We saw nothing we hadn't seen before, and even missed things we had seen before, probably because we only went up one level from where we had got into the mine, and maybe the rest was yet another floor up. But these scree slopes can be a bit treacherous, and Chris had a slightly wonky knee, and that doesn't combine very well.

After we had done the vertical bits we explored into the same horizontal bits that had protracted the trip the previous time (when Mick had gone so cold he had left). I was getting impatient! It's a pretty mine but my bed is rather pretty too. Finally we were ready to head out. And through rather dubious weather we went back to the cars. It wasn't late by TN standards but surely by mine! Work is still rather relentless and I have to be in fine shape on Fridays to keep going. Oh well. I can always bail out altogether if I see it coming that a trip will take too long. But it was nice to have a night with the men. I had been feeling rather ostracised lately (I don't think my choosing the dig over the TN on a regular basis is appreciated, but all these guys are Brits so they won't tell you, they just turn passive-aggressive), and I had wondered if I should bail out completely and stop being a TN, but on reflection I had decided I had rather improve my relationship with them than break it off. And that's what I'm doing! And David said afterwards he had even considered my position in deciding if we would go all the way to the end of the mine. And he hadn't actually done anything with that consideration, but it was a start. We'll see how things develop!

Pretty mini mushrooms

Sinker in a decorative tunnel

The poor railway

04 December 2018

Collaborate with the commercial world

I sometimes find it hard to be a micropalaeontologist in a university without a micropalaeontological research group. We are supposed to offer students MSc projects. My specialism is forams, but it's hard to transfer that knowledge to students if you have an empty lab. We don't have a reference collection anymore, and we don't have reference books. James took them!

A bit further up the coast is a commercial company. They used to mainly provide consultancy for the oil industry. And the oil industry does micropalaeontology. They need forams to have a handle on the age of the rocks they are drilling. But this company sees the future and knows it has to divest. So they are thinking of working in environmental consultancy. And they have the micropalaeontological knowledge; that can be applied in the environmental realm too! And they contacted Bangor University to see if they wanted to collaborate. And I did!

After some mailing to and fro we had a meeting: David, from the company; Mike, from our university-meets-commercial-sector branch, and me, the academic. And we had a chat! And we are all quiet keen to push this agenda. I want their help in either using their facilities, or building up our own; Mike wants companies to work with, and David wants universities to work with. Everybody wins! We even already have a draft first project: taking grab samples in transects over two shipwrecks: one clean, and the other expected to be oozing pollutants, and then checking if they have different microfaunal assemblages. Mike has access to a vessel and a grab sampler. And if that works, we can use that approach in many ways! We can also check if the microfauna in wind farms is like that in pristine areas. And we can see if forams react to, who knows, mussel fishing or a nuclear power station and whatnot. I can't wait! But we have to see if students actually pick these projects! But I think they will. What's not to like!

03 December 2018

Settled status: next and final step

I had tried to acquire settled status; I had borrowed the university's Android 6 phone and tried to use the application app (this is the 21st century after all) to do the entire process. But it stopped somewhere! The app told me to do the rest online. I expected an email about it but nothing came. After a week I took a further step.

I couldn't find anywhere on the government website where I could continue. But then I asked my Belgian colleague, who had applied too. And she mentioned that there was a link in an email. And I hadn't noticed! I was frantically juggling the University phone when it wanted to verify my email address. Well, fine, so it sent me a message and it had a link in it I had to click to do the verification. Then I went back to the app! But that email had had two links; the other one was for completing the application. I had overlooked that! But now I could continue.

The next questions were rather easy to answer. In no time I was done, and I got some application code. And only a day or two later I got the outcome: I had received settled status! So now I should be allowed to stay. And of course, such status is probably something the government can take away from you as well if they want; it's not like it's citizenship. But it's something! And I've got it!

02 December 2018

Chimneys swept - properly this time

When I bought the house I didn't know how much work it needed. But I knew I wanted wood stoves, and I thought I'd better get the chimneys swept. Rose had confessed she didn't have it done very often! So that was the first thing that happened. I phoned a chimney sweep listed on internet, and he could come rather soon, and did, and all was well. I thought.

Fast forward some seven months. The stove installer got in touch and said he coudln't get a liner through the chimney in the landing. He thought it needed sweeping. It shouldn't! No fire had been lit there since I moved in. But I phoned another chimney sweep and booked him in. And this chap looked up into the chimney and saw a big, old bird's nest. What? The previous sweep must have done a shite job! That's a bit disappointing. But this guy was thorough. He not only got the nest down but also removed a big pile of soot. Hm! Good that it is out now, but it should have been out in April.

Blurry pic of the nest

What came out of the chimney

He then did the other chimney too. No nests here, but the installer had already put some metalwork up in preparation for the stove. But the chimney sweep saw it wasn't done properly. I will have to manage this chap closely in order to not end up with a dud! I can do without that. But this way one learns. If I ever buy a house again I will manage to avoid quite some beginner's mistakes I'm making now. And now my chimneys are clean! And I hope the whole stove thing will work out OK in the end...

What came out of the other chimney

30 November 2018

The plastic-free vibe comes to North Wales

Plastic is a big problem. And society is cottoning on; you can see it for instance in the number of students who want to write their dissertation about it. And you sometimes hear about single-use-plastic-free shops and such, but I always figured that was a big city thing and it wouldn't reach the recesses of North Wales anytime soon. I was already quite chuffed we had a co-operative in the village. But then I saw an announcement a small shop in the Menai Bridge High Street, called Slates, had started going plastic-free! You could come in with your tupperware and buy things like rice and pasta and sugar by weight. Great! So I went. I was hoping for them to have olive oil too but they didn't. They were thinking about how to add it, though! And there's only so much of the products they sell there I eat, but now I can buy them without waste. I think it's great!

Rice and couscous but no waste!

29 November 2018

Smug arts and crafts

I drink lots of coffee. Most of that is instant. Quite some of that is decaff. (And I'm not ashamed of it!) If you buy a pot of instant coffee you can quite easily buy refill bags for them, but for decaff, not so much. So I ended up with quite some glass jars. And these can go into the recycling bin but I thought maybe I can do something better with them. And then I figured I have a house that has produced lots of rubble. I am working on a dig that produces a lot of rubble. I take my students to beaches with lots of sand and pebbles. I can go all instagrammable and make these pots into candle holders with a meaning! So I started with one. The plumber had left some bags with rubble. I filled one jar up with that, and plonked a tea light on top. Le voila! Now I need to make a few more and I'm sure I'm quite riding the wave of home-made home decorations with a deeper meaning. It feels a bit weird but I like my new lantern! And should make a few more soon...

28 November 2018

Ladders in the ladderway

While I had been either digging or staying home, the ThursdayNighters had explored a ladderway we had worked with before (I can't quite find when) and which they had deemed not really usable. Some ladders in it, though, were fine. And there is a rather central ladderway in the same mine that has some ladders missing. They had figured they'd sort that. And they had started that but there were two ladders to hoist up still. That was our plan for the night!

We gathered, changed, walked up and went to the top of the ladderway to ponder. Then we went down. At the bottom of the ladderway there is a sort of mezzanine level that leads to an ore chute you can drop to the next proper level down, and a shaft that's part flooded. The shaft had a new traverse past it! I had to try that.


 The top of the shaft seen from the back

While some of us faffed around with the traverse and what was behind it, Edwyn rigged an elaborate 5-to-1 rig for hoisting up the infamously heavy ladders. Then we had to put the first ladder into position! And then the hoisting started. David and Phil were up in the ladderway to guide the ladder and put it in position; Dave L was hoisting; I helped feed the rope through, Edwyn guided the ladder from below, and Jason moved the rig every time we ran out of rope. Paul was sitting on the beam the rig was tied to to provide counterweight. With a 5-to-1 rig a modestly sized man like Dave can pull a heavy ladder up on his own! Things went well. Soon the ladder was in position. Then we started on the second one.

 Edwyn ties the first ladder to the rig

We did the same for the second. There was one incident with Jason getting his hand stuck but no serious damage was done. And the ladderway was complete again! We had a cup of tea and a sandwich to celebrate and then we went out. Nice and early! I'm liking these short Thursdaynighter trips. The week before it was nice and short too! I'm sure it won't last but I'm enjoying it while I can!

27 November 2018

A million Welsh speakers

 What is a Welsh speaker? It seems that the Welsh Government thinks it's a person who lives in Britain and who considers themselves a Welsh speaker. Or a similar minor of which the parents think they're a Welsh speaker. When you see a statistic about how many people speak Welsh, it is not unlikely to have come out of the census. Every 10 years the Brits do a census and one of the questions is about what languages one speaks. It leads to nicely clear numbers: you know exactly how many people have ticked the box that says 'Welsh' in response to the question what language(s) they speak. And you can easily track from census to census how that number changes. But what does a tick mean?

Fluent and native speakers will tick that box. People who don't speak a word of Welsh will not. But what about people in the middle? Do people tick it when they can have a conversation? Do they tick it when they know a few phrases? Do people not tick it until they're fully fluent? I don't think anybody fully knows.

The Welsh government wants to see 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. But what does that mean? I don't think anybody fully knows that either. And is it even a worthy cause? An invitation to a panel discussion on the topic fell into my mailbox and together with Jenny I went. When we got there we teamed up with Dani from my (old) Welsh class, and a lady I dan't met before but heard of.

The discussion was chaired by a Welsh writer and journalist. When he started, he joked that he hoped the audience, which in all likelihood consisted of Welsh speakers, would still be alive in 2050. Then he introduced the panel: academics from three different Welsh universities, and one from an Irish university. So what did they all think?

Some were optimistic and some pessimistic, but all of them were skeptical to a certain degree. Why this number of one million? Where is the money? What is actually done? And the most skeptical was the Irishman. He started by claiming that the Irish language was effectively dead. He said no young person used it as their main language, and thus the language would die out. The government had promoted education in Irish, but there was nowhere to use that skill. As he put it, they lead children up the stairs, but at the top of the stairs, there was no floor, so the kids all walked down the stairs again. And I know things are better in Wales but I know what he means! I put a lot of effort in learning Welsh, but at work I'm surrounded by English speakers, and I haven't had time to climb for a while, and climbing is my most Welsh hobby. If I speak Welsh in the local supermarket I tend to be answered in English. Where is that floor at the top of the stairs? The Irishman said research had pointed out that when a language is spoken by less than 70% of a community (and I assume, if there is an alternative available) that language goes into pretty much unstoppable decline. Just having spread-out Welsh speakers will not work; they have to clot together in >70% communities! But the risk is that if any money is spent, it goes to the communities with a lower percentage, and the viable communities are in peril.

I was wondering, though, if Jenny would not almost have caused a million Welsh speakers on her own. And now we need to clot together! Easier said than done, though, with a heavy academic job devouring one's time and energy. Oh well. We'll see how it goes, and I'll do my best within the limitations I work with! And I hope to still live here in 2050. If I do I sure will list myself as a Welsh speaker the next time the census comes along (in 2021). And probably in all ones that follow. We'll see! Let's hope the Welsh don't make the same mistakes the Irish have...

25 November 2018

Plasterer and stove trouble

After I had oiled the ceiling a second time and the plumber had finished I was ready for the plasterer. But the plasterer not for me! He kept saying that he could start, just not as soon as he had previously said. Until he stopped answering my calls altogether. That is frustrating! I decided to look for another one. And that one would in all likelihood be just as busy, but maybe this one wouldn't stop answering my calls. That is a bit too much! So I phoned one, and booked him in for coming to have a look. We'll see!

The stove persons were also rather inert! If I would send them a text asking when they would do something again they tended to answer that after some time, and then indeed show up, but never to finish the work. Always one tiny step closer to completion! And then one day he mailed saying he couldn't get a liner into the one chimney. He said it needed sweeping!

 The fireplaces still waiting for their wood stoves

Having the chimneys swept was the first thing I did when I bought the house. But well, allegedly not a good job was done. I phoned another one. And booked him in! I hope that resolves the problem. And I hope things start moving again soon. This is getting a bit frustrating!

23 November 2018

Office away from the office

Being in the School of Ocean Sciences has its advantages and disadvantages. One thing that could be either is that we are separate from the main campus. Our offices are on Anglesey, but we do the bulk of our teaching in Bangor. This involves a lot of moving to and fro. That can provide a welcome source of fresh air and exercise, but it can be a bit of a pain too. And you don't want to do it too often.

Sometimes, you have contact hours spread out over the day. It's not always worth going back to Menai Bridge in between! I used to either pop into the library for some work, or find an empty lecture room. That's not ideal, though; the library computers are sometimes all in use, and you can't really do marking in there as your own students may well be right behind you. And lecture rooms can be heavily occupied too, and some have rather awful facilities, with monitors that won't hang at face height, or which don't have a proper chair.

Since a while, we've had a hotdesk in one of the buildings on the central campus. That's brilliant! You have a proper computer in privacy, and a chair, and a building that contains a kitchen. I haven't had use of the kitchen yet; you need to borrow a fob for it, and that has to be signed off by your line manager. As if he doesn't have anything better to do! But one day I'll be able to make myself a cup of tea in there.

It's for all of us, but it only happened once that I found it occupied. By no fewer than two colleagues! But altogether it's a lovely invention. We can use our time more efficiently now! And the last time I was in it I had brought a radio. If I am doing things that don't need too much brainpower (faffing with spreadsheets, answering emails) I like to listen to some music or talking. It's still not as good as in the office (I like my double screen, for instance) but it's quite good!

Our hotdesk

21 November 2018

First step towards settled status

Whatever happens, I should be allowed to stay in the country until December 2020. That's the end of the 'transition period' all EU citizens get. But I can apply for settled status. That process opens on March 30th, but there is a pilot scheme. It is a collaboration between the government and UK universities. I suppose the UK wants to keep the sort of people they like to keep; academics among these. So I was invited to register for the pilot scheme. Of course I jumped to the occasion! So I registered straight away. I was told I would get the actual invitation after some two or three weeks.

After a day or two I received the invitation. So now I should go and sort it! They only want a scan of my passport, and check whether I really live in the UK and not have committed too much crime. I should be OK! My National Insurance contribution seems to be enough evidence for me living here. And I am hardly a prolific criminal. I hope it all works out! Provided I get my hands on the required technology. The somewhat baffling fact is that you need a fairly recent android phone for it. I don't know what percentage of the population has that but I think it's a minority. Think alone of all the iPhone users! I have an android but, surprise surprise, it's too old.

Our Head of School had said he had tried to get phones for the school for the specific purpose; among the academic staff only, we have seven EU citizens (of 32), and at least 3 Brits married to EU citizens. The school would suffer a lot if EU citizens can't stay! Unfortunately, he hadn't succeeded.

I then tried to find out if the University had sorted something centrally. I figured it would; imagine how many EU citizens it employs in total! And indeed it had one (!) phone one could borrow. I seemed to have been the first; the app wasn't installed on it. I was a bit hesitant about putting it on; you need to log in on your Google account for doing that. I will have to make sure that login information will be removed afterwards! But I did it.

 Downloading the app

I got the app, but my passport was at home (oh dear). I made sure I Googled how to remove my login details from the phone, and did that. The phone was ready! But before I got to use it I already got a request to give it back asap. They will get that more often. One phone for the entire university!

I had a drop-in session at four, but I wasn't really needed so I decided to go home and use the phone. But that was harder than expected! The app scans the passport and your face, but it needs light for that. I have rather low light in most of my rooms! I should have done it in the bathroom; that has the brightest light in the house. I didn't think of that! And they don't let you have many attempts. I made do with the kitchen and the master living room. The passport was successfully scanned. I took a picture successfully, but some other scan wouldn't work. I will have to file additional information on the government website. I hope that's not too much hassle! Stay tuned...

20 November 2018

Internet problems

In the summer of 2013 I decided to enter the 21st century and connect my house to broadband. And the broadband moved with me to Menai Bridge, and then to Bethesda. But things associated to the 21st century are often not built to last. And I think my router wasn't! In Menai Bridge it occasionally switched itself off. A nuisance, but no big deal. But it got worse and worse. Instead of having to switch it back on once every few weeks I now often had to do it several times a day! And that just isn't funny anymore. So I first contacted the provider online. Nothing happened. Then I phoned them. And  the bloke on the other side agreed that maybe it was time for a new router. And it got sent! I hope that means it will soon work as it should again. I will sometimes want to work at home! For instance, if I have a lecture at, say, 11 in Bangor, and I find it more efficient to work at home before biking there, rather than biking to Menai Bridge first, and then back to Bangor for the lecture. And then back again.

An increasingly rare sight: the router with the lights on

I first made a new shelf for it; the cupboard it lives in used to have one, but when the electrician put a new consumer unit in he had to take it out, as the new unit was too big. I put the new one up a few inches lower. And then it was time to install the new thing!

 The new router!

It's quite easy. It's plug and play! The shelf was a lot more work. And now let's hope this one will give me nice uninterrupted internet access for years to come!