31 March 2018

Getting the key

The day came! It was a day off. That was good! I had been told key exchange would be at 1PM, so I had planned to do some more packing and cleaning at home until I would get the message that I could pick up the key. But the phone call came at 10AM! Great!

I really needed two more cups of coffee until I could act on that message. I downed these, grabbed a few more things I would need in the house, and drove to Bangor. I collected the keys, and popped by in a second hand store a few doors up. I saw a small set of sidetables; I bought them! It would be good to have something to put my mug of tea on in the new house. Then I drove to Bethesda.

When I go there I made sure to take a key selfie. It's quite the moment; the keys to my first house! But the getting the key would be the easy bit...

30 March 2018

Last time before ownership

I would get they key on Thursday! Very exciting. But I was already phoning around to line up tradespeople to do work on the house. One of them, Glynne who I had asked to do the floors, suggested he'd come have a look the weekend before. He knows Rose, so that she still lived there didn't matter! And I wanted to see it myself anyway, to make a few more plans. We agreed on Sunday noon.

Rose was in, with a friend. The friend was using her bigger car to transport some of Rose's plants. These can't go into storage! We had a cup of coffee together, waiting for Glynne. He was a bit late but that was OK, we were still having coffee. He joined in, and we had a chat. It turned out he had installed James' kitchen!

We had to get cracking, though. We had a look at the floors I wanted changing. He figured we couldn't put a wood floor in the landing on top of the stairs; the last step would be too high. What to do? Maybe just sand down the original floorboards! We'd have to wait until Rose had moved out; we would have to lift the carpet and there were things standing on it!

The master bedroom was fine for a wood floor, but it would have to be glued. It would be lain on concrete! Now I had the task of finding wood. Not easy!

Then Glynne was on his way. I had another chat with Rose. I would probably not see her again! And the next time I would see the house, I would own it! Or rather, a portion of it. An exciting time for both of us!

29 March 2018

Packing continues

My plan was: take a apart all apart-takable furniture, and move it to Bethesda. If you can take it apart it will fit inside the car! Except the double bed. I can then do the solid bits later, with a bigger vehicle. And doing it in bits might be nice! Having all you own dumped in a house makes reassemblage a daunting task. If I just spread it out over several days it is probably easier (more space) and more relaxed.

Soon most was taken apart! As I write this, I have some shelving in the hall that is still upright, and the book cupboard, and the desk. These are all still in use! I suppose the shelving will go next. I might clear out some window sills to accommodate whatever's on there. And the kitchen table might function as a desk for a while. The desk needs repair, anyway. And the book cupboard is so far untouched as I have not started on the living room yet; it's nice to keep that cosy until the very end! But new house, here I come!

The master bedroom, now box storage

 The second bedroom; still bedroom, but not much more

28 March 2018

Goodbye Gwynne

We have some people in the School that have been there longer than I have lived. One of them is our salty seadog Big Gwynne. He is in charge of the small boats. And it seems like there's nothing he can't do with them! I never used a small boat for my work here, but I knew Gwynne. Everyone knows Gwynne! Always ready to have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and tall tales and some pulling your leg. And he was always willing to speak Welsh with me! Which was appreciated. But everything must come to an end, also Gwynne's career here. And there was a small do in the coffee area. He got a speech, and some leg-pulling presents. A mug and a packet of biscuits; a framed picture of him leasurely steering one of the small boats; a pair of waders (attire he frequently dons to get to his boats) with messages on them. And a stack of money he could spend according to his own wishes. Probably fishing gear; he's not going to stay away from boats in his retirement!

Pics by David

At five he went to the pub with who wanted to join him there. I went! I hope he has a great time in this new phase. And I hope to see him again!

27 March 2018

Another Welsh book down

Should I stop mentioning the books I read? It's becoming routine now. I read another book! I borrowed it from one of the ladies in my Welsh class. She recommended it! It was a bundle of short stories. I'm not normally a fan of short stories, but well, one can make exceptions. And it was good indeed!

There were quite some stories in there that hinged on people who have children with an unusual person (not their husband, or someone who they abandon without even knowing they're pregnant), or people who cheat, or a combination of the above. (The cheating story without pregnancy does involve - how Welsh - a crucial Eisteddfod.) But it is the stuff of common human tragedy.

There was also a story about a boy who grows up really close to his granddad, and who wants to follow in his footsteps, but then the granddad dies before that is feasible. And a story of a woman whose husband dies. Life is never without its challenges with this author!

And now? Now I'm too busy moving house to read much!

26 March 2018

Unusual recesses of a mine

It was a good night to be with the Thursdaynighters again! Miles was otherwise engaged, so I would get to see a different mine again. One I had been in many times, but we'd try to explore unusual bits this time. David had spotted two passages he couldn't reach without extra gadgets, so the plan was to carry a double ladder into the mine and reach these places. Who knows what we would find! They had also found a so far unknown (to us) adit we wanted to have a look at.

We gathered and got geared up. We had more people in the parking lot than we would have underground: Edwyn was just passing by on his commute, and Phil wasn't quite feeling well, so he would just come for a walk.

We set off, and soon reached the adit. Those who hadn't seen it before had a look. A strange place! Full of ochre, but from where? But it didn't go awfully far so soon we came out again, slithering down the slope, over the same ochre. Onwards!

 Pretty cave pearls in the adit

We got to the main entrance and walked to the ladderway. I had assumed the passage was at the bottom of the ladderway. Its last ladder is missing, but hey, we had a ladder! I didn't put on my SRT kit and helped David bring the ladder down. That went generally OK except that he kept telling me off for pulling the ladder, while it was gravity that did the pulling, not me. Telling him that didn't help. And then it turned out the passage went off the ladderway! Exciting. It was a bit of a faff to get the ladder into position as maneouvering long objects in a narrow ladderway is tricky, but we did it.  The passage went straight to a winze. Or shaft, I'm not sure. We could hear the others higher up.

I had seen it now. David now wanted me to go and fetch a rope from lower down. As clearly the ladder wasn't going to go all that way I needed my SRT kit after all. Thanks, David! I had told him I wasn't going to put it on. But I went back up to get it. Along the way I got distracted by another passage I had never noticed (or maybe I had, and then forgot again; either way, I couldn't remember seeing it before), and which I clambered into. The rope could wait! But then Jason, who had been wearing SRT kit already, went instead. Fine! I went up to eat some fruit. Then I went down again to see how things were progressing. Maybe they needed a hand with the ladder?

I ended up having Jason throw the ropes he was fetching at me; that saved him dragging them up while climbing another rope. Then I went up; David and Ed brought the ladder up. I took it at the top. And saw yet another out-of reach passage just there. I put the ladder up! It didn't reach. But we had two; we could extend it. The other half was just around the corner! David fetched it and soon i was up. It was a bit iffy get get off it, as what you stepped onto was a steeply inclined rubble slope, but I did it. And it went! It was a passage with ore chute going down left, right and centre, and a nice chain ladder leading up. Cool! I went back. Getting back onto the ladder was again bit tricky but I did it.

The snazzy chain ladder

Next was a ladderway going up rather than down; the bottom ladder was missing (or maybe the bottom two). We plonked the ladders up and off went David. He reached the remaining ladders and wanted to attach the retrieved rope to it. But who carried it? Nobody! Oh dear. We even had had three bits; Ed had had the third but tossed it aside as he said he had his own. David was angry as usual. Not sure why it was all our fault; he had refrained from bringing the ropes as much as we had. Oh well, that's how it works. I'm glad I'm mostly digging; Miles never does that kind of being angry at people for all the wrong reasons. Anyway; Jason and I went to fetch all three bits and all worked out. In the meantime David had been using Ed's rope; it had been immaculate but now it was fully ochrous. That'll teach him! But now he could put the ropes there we could leave. He went up and down again.

Then he suggested I go up without the ladder, using the put-in-place rope. I did! And climbed the ladders. They were delightful! Below me David did some re-rigging while I took some pictures. There was one ladder a bit precariously leaning towards the open stope; we didn't want to use that. But maybe a next time we could secure it and climb onwards! Who knows where that would bring us.

 The ladderway

I then went down through the gunk. It was time to go home! I made sure to wash my stuff on the way out. No need bringing all that gunk home! On the way back we discussed strategies for securing that wonky ladder. Mick had nibblies, as usual. And when these were eaten Ed and I went home; David and Paul had come in the Landrover so we travelled separately. It wasn't all too late! Altogether a successful night! With some reminders of why there's more to digging than juts finding new terrain, but a pleasant night after all!

25 March 2018

Pondering new strikes

The conflict wasn't resolved after the first round of strikes! So there needed to be a second round. The union called a meeting and I went. Not so much to make sure my voice got heard; more to try to help me make up my mind about the situation. If we would strike any more, the risk would be we could not graduate any students. There is a quite strict protocol. That involves certain meetings of which I'm sure you need a certain percentage of staff present. And certain committees meeting.

The other union members were more militant than me. They wanted to make sure their strikes had impact! Some thought we needed to keep the students on our side, some thought we needed to piss them off as that's the only impact we have. Some wanted to target lectures, some exams, some marking, some exam board meetings. We will probably be doing a bit of all of the above.

And me? I don't think I'm happy with stopping students from graduating. That goes a bit far! If you don't do a lecture they can go to the library and find some information themselves. But they can't go and get a diploma themselves. I would not be happy if that happened to me! So I'm not comfortable with doing it to others.

I suppose official strike guidelines will come from the national union soon! I may strike on lecture days but I won't get in the way of the exams or the exam board meetings... and that won't make me popular with the other union members but one can't have it all!

24 March 2018

Nice rainbow

I have to enjoy the view as long as I can! I know I've been saying that for months, but well, I suppose it's still true. I was reminded of it when I got up from my chair to do God knows what, and noticing a glorious rainbow over the mainland. It was a stunner! And pictures never fully do them justice but still, here is some depiction of its loveliness. Who knows when I'll have an office with only a skylight!

23 March 2018

Searching for a wood burner

I have two fireplaces in the new house! I would like wood burners in there. I'd like them to be broken out to the original size, all in raw slate, and then plonk wood burners in there. These are a bit easier to just shut and not worry about. But I needed to find people to do it! I had phoned one without success, but the first Saturday after being sure it would all go ahead I decided to drive to the two nearby-ish showrooms. One booked me a home visit so they could make me a quote. The other one said they would be in touch. It's rolling, sort of! But I do have to change my ideas on budget. These bloody log burners are expensive! I thought it should be possible to get one for £400. I mean, it's just a cast iron box with a door! How expensive does that have to be? But very expensive, apparently. Start with twice what I had in mind! Oh dear...

I'm not sure how I'll go on with this. Maybe have one fireplace and one wood burner! The fireplace in the living room, then, and the wood burner in the landing. That one is really close to the wood of the banister so I do want to be able to close the door. And I want to plonk my desk there; what I would like is to be able to go do some computer work in a room that is not constantly heated but which I can make nice and warm rather quickly. A fire can do that! And I'd love to be able to do work in a snug environment. I now have the master bedroom as my home office. It's not a bad room at all, but it's not terribly snug! And it's rather thermally inert. There's no point having the heating on high in there, but that does mean I can't warm it up for the occasion. I look forward to the new configuration!

Starting with the fireplaces seemed the reasonable thing to do; that sounds like the first thing that needs doing. If you send the painter/decorator in first then the fireplace-person will make a mess of the work just done. I hope it all works out well!

 It won't look this old-fashioned! But I hope I get to make it look 19th century... Pic by Willy Horsch, Rheinisches Freilichtmuseum Kommern, Herdstelle

22 March 2018

The packing has started

Now that I knew the move was definitive I could start packing! A weekend appeared. On the Saturday I didn't actually get anything along that line done. On Friday I worked until I was done with my essay marking, and was home late. The next morning I go out of bed later than usual! Not just because I was tired from a long working day, but I got home so late I didn't manage to do my tea-drinking long enough before going to bed to make sure I didn't have to get up in the night. And we had pesky Eastern winds that thought it a good idea to make the neighbour's bins do a little dance outside my window. And in the morning I went off ogling wood burners. And did some blogging, and laundry, and homework, and all that stuff. The day vanished without an packing happening!

That Sunday there was an underground trip planned. I had been in two minds regarding it; I need to spend time on the house! But I also need friends. And I don't get to see the Thursdaynighters all that often, with the dig and all. So I had decided to join! I wasn't keen on driving myself; there was another snow warning, and the road we needed to negotiate was steep. But David would be going in his big fat Landie, and offered me a lift. But then the people from further away (with two wheel drive) were not sure they'd get over the pass. And Phil wanted to stand by in case his wife ended up in logistic trouble. And that would pretty much only leave David and me, in the cold in his draughty Landrover, so it was called off. So after all, I could start on packing the house! I had decided my plan would be: take my double bed apart, place it vertically against the wall, and thus make space to put more disassembled furniture, and field boxes. And so I did!

When the bed was out of the way I started to empty out the big cupboard in my other bedroom, and some shelves I keep clothes on. I'll try to keep kitchen and living room intact for now, except the book cupboard. Most furniture in said rooms can't be taken apart, so these can be used to the last moment. But it would be nice if I can get a lot of the flatpackable furniture flat before getting the key of the new house!

21 March 2018

Anonymous marking

I never want to do this again! Generally, this blog isn't for venting, but now it is. Some time ago we had an away day at work, about assessment. On this day we were encouraged to do our marking anonymous. I can see the point! It's inevitable you like some students more than others, and there is always the risk you involuntarily let that influence you. So next time I set up an online assessment, or rather: two of them, I toggled the 'anonymous marking' box. How I would regret that.

If you don't mark anonymously, you can download the file the student has uploaded. You can just have it open in Word or Acrobat, while you also have the document in the viewer of the marking-and-feedback software, called Turnitin. But a word document contains information on its author, so when you mark anonymously, you can't do that. I had not realised that beforehand.

I have been marking a pile of essays, anonymously. And what a pain it was! And futile too; most students write their name on the document anyway. So why was it such a pain?

When marking an essay, you often want to check things. Has the student explained this abbreviation before? There is mention of, say, upwelling in the conclusions, but did they actually discuss it? Does that reference really contain the information? Does that text reference have a corresponding  reference in the bibliography? Does that reference in the bibliography have a corresponding text reference? And in Turnitin, you can't search. Not as far as I have found, anyway. And even if you could; you have to scroll up and down in the same document all the time to check such things. And Turnitin can be quite slow! So it's a complete pain. I like having the Turnitin document open with the Word doc next to it, with the Word document showing the bibliography and the Turnitin document showing whatever text I am currently working on. I use the Word document for searching; Word is quite quick. Works a treat!

Another issue is that you can't copy; if you want to check a reference, you can't just copy if from the essay into Google Scholar. You have to type it by hand. A pain! And if you want to write feedback to the student, and give examples of things, you can't copy them over either. Again, you have to type it by hand.

Last thing is that Turnitin gives you a word count, but only of the entire document. If you want to check if the abstract is the right length, for instance, you can't. 

Altogether, I hated it with a passion. I will go back to marking while knowing whose work it is I'm marking! It will be quicker, more accurate, and I will be a lot happier. I am convinced that is a stronger effect than any subconscious biases I may have...

20 March 2018

Breakthrough, finally

We had been stuck at a vertical step in the ceiling in the dig for months. I didn't know that was what I bumped into in July, but slowly it would become apparent that that was what made progress so hard there. I came across a pile of rocks sticking out towards me, and in September I started tackling them. It was a difficult bit to clear! It took ages. In December it became clear that the issue was a vertical step in the ceiling. That had made the density of rocks high and the risks involved in removing them too. We also thought it was a small step, fooled  by a big slab that looked ceiling-ish.

We managed to do some clearing out, and then support the ceiling-ish slab. We were now ready to try to get past it! As usual, I was up first. I had another look. I had initially thought we might chip a bit off the ceiling-ish slab in order to get past, but actually, the passage was big enough. There was just stuff in the way! One big slab, and lots of small ones. I noticed I could already bring some of the smaller ones down, so I did. When Miles arrived I showed him I thought we needed to get rid of the largest rock on top of the ceiling-ish slab. He agreed, and set to work. I kept a strategic distance; far enough to not be affected by dust or falling rocks, but close enough to keep an eye on what he was doing. It looked a bit scary! But after some clunking and wrenching and making funny sounds he managed: the big rock thumped to the ground. Success! I pushed it down the slope.

Miles had a look at his results. He didn't like it one bit! Lots of loose stuff. He was starting to ponder outrageous solutions to get rid of it. He surely didn't like the thought of bringing it down. But he wanted a bit of a change anyway, so he followed the big slab down, and started to chop it up a bit so it would be easier to throw it all the way down.

I had a look at what the situation was too. A lot of smallish stuff! Nothing bigger than about 40 x 25 cm. But it was important to make sure it wouldn't fall on me. I folded myself as far out of the way as I could, and grabbed the bar we had ready. I started prodding! And it worked rather well. My strategy worked. Everything just fell past! And nothing needed much encouragement to come down. It went well! So well the pile underneath me got rather big. It approached critical taper, which meant it was at risk of sliding onto Miles. I asked if I could do some pre-emptive shoving! And he was OK with that. Then I suggested he come up to have a look.

He doesn't like going up the final slab too much, so while he was doing that I couldn't resist climbing into the void I had just created. It fit! And felt safe. And I found the actual ceiling again! We had broken the back of it!

I got out to show Miles. He didn't know what he saw! He thought we had hit a really different bit, but it was sorted in minutes. It had probably looked more difficult to him as he wouldn't have been able to effectively fold himself out of the way! And that's one of my fortes. He had used his forte (strength) to pave the way for me emptying out the whole space. What good collaboration!

At the ceiling itself it was still a bit challenging; the rocks there were generally too big to pick up but too small to blow up. Oh dear! But we'll find a way. We always do! And I think next time I'll just go back with a crowbar. With being right underneath the ceiling, there now is little risk of things falling on your head! I'm sure I can make good progress! And I hope we will be scooting along the ceiling again soon!

The new passage past the supported slab; the surface with the finger-shaped shadow is the ceiling

19 March 2018

Progressing bureaucracy

Things have changed since I went to university! And one would hope so; that was 25 years ago and it would have been silly if all was still the same. Some things are a lot better. I remember the pain in the bum it was to search for literature; you had to look it up, write a list, look up where all the journals you needed articles from were stored in the library, then go there and find them. Journals tended to be bound in thick heavy volumes, so you could only reasonably carry a few at a time. Then you had to copy them. And only then could you start reading! Doing all that online has really been an improvement.

Not everything is so unequivocally good; one thing that changed is the bureaucracy. If we now either see our students or don't, we have to document that. Email contact should be documented too. And you'd think it is; it's in your sent items box! But that's not centrally accessible, so I find myself regularly spending time copying emails to and from tutees or dissertation students into the central system. Is that a good thing? Well, I suppose leaving a paper (sensu lato) trail has pros and cons. But the system was very clunky. A bit silly; doing it digitally is supposed to make things easier. But now it is! I got an email about that the systems were now connected. And whether you like all that archiving or not; at least now it is easier; you just BCC your email to the central system and hey presto! It's there.

I suppose this is a bit of a symptom of universities becoming more commercial; they need the students, so they want to be able to spot it if something goes wrong. If caught in time, maybe the problem can be solved before the student drops out of university and stops paying tuition fees! And the students become more consumerist too. That means they can be rather demanding. Sometimes you need a paper trail to show you've done what you can. And do I like that new approach? Hell no. But it's there! Better make sure I survive in this system...

17 March 2018

Tension and a happy ending

My solicitor had been optimistic. She figured we were on course to complete on March the 29th! But certain things needed to be sorted still. One was that I needed building insurance. That's compulsory, and for a reason; until I pay off the mortgage, I don't own the place. Can't let it burn down without being able to have it built up again. But that was easily sorted. Then there was the bigger problem: Japanese Knotweed. It doesn't grow in the garden, but it grows on the river bank. And that means it could spread into the garden and towards the house and take it apart and render the house worthless. Oh dear! The mortgage lender had been sitting on its hands and staring out of the windows for weeks, wondering if they thought that was a likely scenario. And time was ticking.

 The knotweed (the sub-horizontal stuff; it does back over winter) near the end wall of the garden

If we wanted to complete on March 29th, Rose (the current owner) would have to have moved out by then. And moving out is quite a task! Especially if you've lived somewhere for a fair while. And she had been there for 18 years. She also wanted to know what she was up to, of course. As did I!

Then, on Friday the 9th, I got the email from the mortgage lender. All was well! I could breathe easily. But then on Monday I got a text from Rose, saying she had been told there was no decision yet. Oh dear! I phoned the lender, and it was right; that email I had got had been sent prematurely. They were still deliberating! Shit! They were supposed to decide the next day. They had better!

 I biked past this amazing sunset while worrying about the house

The next day I hoped to hear something. Nothing! So I decided to start phoning myself, the day after. I couldn't immediately; I was involved in a practical. But during that practical an email came in from my solicitor. Success! The mortgage lender was OK with all of it! No more obstacles! And none too soon; it was the 14th already...

A little bit of faffing followed, but with result; later that day the solicitor contacted me to say the contracts had been exchanged. It's final now! Nothing can really go wrong now! The house will be mine! Hurrah!

16 March 2018

Teaching qualification rectified

In September I got my teaching qualification. I thought. But it turned out I didn't! Recently, an email pinged into my inbox, informing me they had sent the wrong documents. I had been given a generic qualification, not a postgraduate one! I had noticed it didn't say 'postgraduate' but I hadn't payed much attention to it. But it should have mentioned it! So I was asked to send the old certificate back, and then they would send the correct version to me. A bit late but now I am actually qualified!

 Spot the difference

15 March 2018

Open day as apprentice

Three months into my time here at Bangor University I was at an open day, trying to impress prospective students. Little did I know that a few years later, I would be a bit more heavily involved in these.

When a colleague left I became peer guide coordinator. Peer guides are important for open days; they provide a student perspective and do a lot of legwork, guiding the prospective students and their relatives from one demonstration to the next. So when the organiser of the open days also decided to leave, it was an easy choice to make me take over. And technically, I only take over half; there are open days for prospective students who are deciding where to apply, and different ones for those who have applied and now have to choose which one of their offers they should accept. My colleague Mattias will organise the latter; I will have to do the former. And this would be the last op that kind before I would be responsible for them! Oh dear. I wasn't scheduled to be there, but I decided to be anyway, to see how Andy organised it all.

It was good to do that! Andy kindly told me what I needed to know, and showed me how he did things. And between getting instructions I did the general talking to people if I saw people that looked like they could do with being talked to. I had initially planned to do a bit of marking in between, but that didn't happen. Open days are good days to do some weekend work in the office, as the heating is on! But this time I only benefited from that before the open day kicked off; once it did I was immersed and didn't come out until it was over. And by then the heating was switched off, of course. Oh well.

The next open days are for prospective students who are deciding where to apply, so I will only be the adjunct. It will be February by the time I will have to sort this on my own. I hope all will go well!

The marine biologists flaunt their creatures. One of the guys (Stuart) let me touch his bryozoan! It was alive! That was a first for me...

Andy keeps an eye on the time schedule

Prospective students make a gravity current

Unborn fish (lesser spotted dogfish?). Notice the born versions underneath

14 March 2018

Safety in the dig

After a week of not working in the dig due to adverse weather conditions we were back. The adverse weather had left some scenic scenes! There was foldy snow/ice on the lake, and the entrance was festooned with icicles. Very nice!

 Foldy snow/ice on the lake

Decorative icicles

The previous time we had left with the dig all ready to receive a bit of supporting. The ceiling of the cavity we're working in now is a big slab that is quite convenient; it keeps us safe from what's above it. But only as long as it stays put itself. On one side it didn't seem to be resting on all too much. This time we would support it with a piece of scaff. Miles had brought the swivelly brackets so all was ready! We hoped.

When Miles tried to fit a bolt through a bracket we realised we weren't quite ready yet. It didn't fit! He suggested using resin and thin rebar (or something) instead. I suggested drilling out the bolt holes. My plan won! But it did mean having to retrieve a drill bit from the top of the dig. But I had to go there anyway, to measure how long our piece of scaff had to be. I scampered up while Miles did some housekeeping. I came down with the drill bit, and a piece of polyprop the length of the desired support. It looked so short! So short, actually, I checked the older part of the dig to see if we may have some pieces of scaff that size already. In the meantime, Miles drilled out the holes. The scaff I came back with was even shorter, but well, it had been worth the try.

We then had a bit of a 'but where IS our scaff bar?' moment. The things you manage not to think of. We found it, Miles cut it to size, and we could go up to put it in place. That went well! Comfortable it wasn't, but well, digging isn't. We had our bar in position! We could feel safe now.

 Safe as houses!

Miles took the opportunity to start clobbering the rocks that were on top of the big slab. He did well! He brought two big ones, and quite a lot of small ones, down. Good progress! I hope next week we can chip a bit off the now secured rock so the opening to what's above it becomes a bit bigger. That should make it easier to remove more stuff. And then maybe, just maybe, we are finally close to a breakthrough again! It would be about time!

13 March 2018

Pay the deposit

I've never paid a sum that large! Not even 10% of it! This house buying business resets the standards. I decided that probably, just transferring the money wouldn't happen without difficulty, so I set out to do it even before I was sure the mortgage lender was OK with the whole thing, even after hearing about the Japanese knotweed. The solicitor had said I could do it online. I couldn't find a limit for such things on my bank website, but I found an upper limit of £100.000 for 'fast transfers', whatever these are. I figured I'd try. I got my bank gadgets out and tried to do the transfer. I checked the bank account nr and sort code about five million times! You read enough horror stories in the newspaper of people who get one number wrong and never see their money again.

Checking didn't help, though; I couldn't transfer that amount of money online. Clearly my transfer wasn't a fast one! An error message came up. I decided to phone the bank. They suggested they process the payment that way. Good idea! They also checked account nr and sort code about five million times, and that was after asking me several security questions. I was happy with the precautions! And it went through. So that's ready for the big day! And the next day my solicitor confirmed she had received the funds. Good! So let everything else now go as planned as well! I could have the key within weeks...

 The letter with the request for the large sum

11 March 2018

Gender issues dividing colleagues

I had lunch with the usual suspects. There was a race coming up! Two of us (not me) would run it so it was an interesting topic. We discussed how a race route is actually measured. One of the chaps, Brian, mentioned that's just done by a man with a wheelie device. One of the ladies, Meg, added 'or woman'. I fully agreed! I am quite fed up with that activities are so often thoughtlessly attributed to men. But Brian wasn't having any of it. He said he was using 'man' in a strictly gender-neutral way and we shouldn't make a fuss about it. Meg wisely answered we may be a bit fed up with hearing every day that it's OK to only mention the men and that we shouldn't make a fuss about it.Brian was still not having any of it. I was surprised! He otherwise strikes me as so wise, but telling women whether or not they should mind if they feel sidelined strikes me as not being very wise. I think you are on slippery ice when you tell people what they should and should not feel marginalised by, especially if you belong to the demographic that has historically been doing the marginalising. Not because you should feel guilty about the collective activities of said demographic, but because it's so easy to not see the incessant battering with such in themselves small incidents from your lofty position. If someone who stands somewhere from where you can see things you can't see tells you about the view, should you really dismiss what they say, even though they have the evidence and you don't? But Brian said that as a white, middle-aged (and, may I add, straight) man he was fed up with feeling like he was blamed for everything that was wrong in the world.

Meg saw this wasn't going anywhere, and brought the discussion back to racing, but I wasn't ready to give up. This was Brian, would he really stand by his statements if he thought about it for a bit? But he apparently did. And I know it was a minor incident but well, you have to start the conversation somewhere. I remembered someone on the radio recently saying 'the world and his wife' and being right pissed off about it. But if I don't speak up, who will?

I decided to see if we could finish the discussion later. I popped into his office. Brian thought I came in to apologise; he was happy with that. But I wasn't; I wanted to figure out where his standpoint came from and make sure he knew what I meant so we could either agree to disagree or even agree, but not end the conversation at loggerheads as we had done. But me not coming to apologise turned his mood. He got cranky, and soon after, angry. He said language was language and it originated in less enlightened time and that was nothing he could do about. I didn't quite agree. Language changes! Because of the people speaking it. He wasn't having it. And then he also said something that struck me as rather peculiar; he claimed that anyone who hadn't realised that women are being favoured for literally any job going was an utter fool (or something to that effect). I was surprised and asked him what data he based that statement on. Clearly not data I've seen. But he didn't volunteer any data source but got angrier. I saw this wasn't going well and suggested we leave it at this. To my surprise he didn't take that offer but kept ranting, including ranting about that he didn't have time for this and wanted the discussion to stop. It was rather unpleasant. I saw another way out when he said something about 'manning the barricades' and I acknowledged his clever word pun. That might bring things to a light-hearted end! But no, even that set him off. Time to skedaddle, even with the discussion not being over. Even though he kept ranting until I was out the door (about me better leaving, I admit) I left. I was very upset.

I went back to my office, shut the door and went back to work, but with turmoil churning under the surface. I like Brian! And yes, I suppose women being fed up with being sidelined might lead to men being fed up with having it pointed out to them they take up too much space. I see that! But I don't see why we can't discuss that at a quiet tone. Yelling at people tends not to help. Doesn't strengthen your case either.

I think what is happening here is that as a straight white man he was so used to having way too much of the cake he felt threatened when his piece started to get smaller and smaller, even though I don't think it's anywhere near representative now. I mean, if women are so blatantly favoured, would politics not do anything about it? Men outnumber women 2:1 in parliament; a law to stop us pesky women (and whoever else is not  a straight white man) should pass without problems. And where is the data to back this female advantage up? I sometimes have a look at peer-reviewed literature what the latest is on the topic, and I haven't quite seen anything to support his view. Au contraire, to be honest. I can only make assumptions here; not keen to engage in such a discussion again. But it's the best explanation I have.

Anyway. A bit later there was a knock on the door. It was Brian! He came in to apologise. I think he stands with his viewpoints but he had realised that his aggression had been too much. I was so glad to hear him say that! I felt a lot better. And by the look on his face, so did he. We may not have managed to exchange data in a civilised way in an attempt to convince each other, as one should be able to expect from scientists, but at least it ended well on a personal level...

10 March 2018

Keep the cold out of the office

The previous Thursday it had been such awful weather that even though the heating was at full blast, my office was only 8 degrees. That's too cold! I borrowed an electric heater which was an improvement, but it was hardly comfortable. That Friday the entire university was closed. A local workaholic pointed out the heating had been on, though. As the storm was still strong I can't imagine it did an awful lot of good in my office!

On Monday I returned, and looked forward to some quiet work after all these disruptions by strikes and storms and whatnot. But when I came in I felt the cold. It was only 5 degrees in my office! The heating wasn't on! That make me decidedly cranky. I immediately phoned Estates (who are responsible for such things) and luckily managed to sound friendly and polite. Whoever you get on the phone is not likely to be someone who has the power to make sure such things don't happen! They said someone was on it. At least I had my radiator. But I did decide I was going to block off one of the single pane windows. Yes I will one day move office (it's still not happened yet!) and yes then it's up to Dei what happens with it and yes the weather will probably soon get better anyway but I was fed up. That blatant heat leakage had to go! Luckily I had an old notice board and some cardboard. Both are good insulators!

That day the temperature never reached the legal minimum. But the day after it did! It took until the afternoon, and it took the help of the electric heater, but it got there. I suppose spring is in the air though. I will be glad when this office will stay above the legally advised temperature all day, without too much prompting, soon! And I still expect that in summer Dei and I will actually make the swap. His office has the same number of radiators (namely 1), but is a lot smaller, and only has one single pane window, so it can still be quite cold (the day it was 8 degrees in my office it was 14 in his) but not quite as bad!

08 March 2018

Small winter walk with house inspection

If you're about to buy a house of which the surveyor has said the roof of the garage is not up to scratch anymore, you get a bit nervous when a big storm hits. It didn't help that the roof of a shed around the corner has come off! I also encountered several fallen-over trees on my morning run. And a bit further north, an entire marina had been comprehensively destroyed. So after the wind had died down I figured it was time to have a look. And when I was there anyway, I went for a small walk. All work and no play and stuff!

The good news is: the roof hadn't suffered a bit! Looked identical to what it was before. That roof is solid! Then I could go for a walk. And with the easterly wind gone the westerly moisture had made its entrance again, and it was a bit foggy and rainy and not very photogenic, but at least I came across a nice frozen waterfall! I didn't linger all too long. Enough to do with this house business looming!

07 March 2018

Weather too shit for student presentations

It was cold in my office. Digging had been cancelled. Then an email came in: the university would be closed the next day, because of the weather. Oh dear! I was supposed to have an entire day of student presentations then, for my Climate and Climate Change module. The students had written essays and now they would do presentations about these same topics. I enjoy that sort of stuff! But this threw a spanner in the works. I quickly went to check my students' timetables. When was there an entire day free? There was only one in the foreseeable future. I mailed timetabling to book it! Let's hope this new date doesn't bugger up the students' plans. But what can one do!

That Friday I spent at home. No way I was going to risk going to the office! With the university closed, they may turn off the heating. And that would just be a bit too bad. Better work in a warm house with less work facilities..

06 March 2018

Weather too shit to dig

There was a weather warning in force. And it was Thursday! Oh dear. I wasn't quite sure what the conditions in Snowdonia would be like. It doesn't have any road cameras. So in order to decide if I could go digging I had asked Miles to let me know what it was like.

While I was sitting in my cold office around which the wind was howling menacingly, I got the requested email. Miles mentioned it looked like Siberia up there in the valley where the mine is, and that he was getting out of there himself. He was in a clunky 4WD, so he'd be fine, but that meant there was no way I would get there. So the dig was off! And so was the other Thursdaynighter trip.

I figured it had been a wise decision when I went to the other building and was almost blown over. Oh dear! It was really bleak. I had to borrow an electric heater to manage to crank up the temperature to 12 degrees. Still so cold you can refuse to work, but that work won't do itself. I stayed! But I was glad I was wearing long Johns. And I didn't take my jacket off until I was home again. It would have been quite snug in the mine, but trying to get there, and back afterwards, would have been quite the opposite of snug!

In the office

05 March 2018

Winter walk with guests

I had already taken our Sabbatical guest Jeff onto a mountain. He suggested I do the same with his entire family! Or rather, go for a walk with his entire family. Trying weather had hit and his daughter was only just about to turn 8. I thought we could walk into Cwm Tryfan; you get the views of Tryfan itself without having to do any difficult climbing.

I met them in a local cafe, after having picketed. I hadn't met his wife Julie or his daughter Eleanor before! They were very nice. We had a coffee and a chat. Then we got into their rental car.

I accidentally guided them to Gwern Gof Isaf rather than the more suitable Gwern Gof Uchaf. Oh dear! But we corrected ourselves. We got kitted up and started on our way. It was snowy!

The path first takes you past Tryfan Bach. With these conditions, I figured  we may not get any further. You can't play games with a mountain! Eleanor was a bit cautious in the snow. I could see why! Jeff tried to convince her she was exaggerating but she was having none of that. But the landscape was spectacular!

We indeed decided to only go around Tryfan Bach and not any further. But when we got to where we thought of looping around, Eleanor jumped off a rock, and landed on a frozen muddy puddle. The ice broke and she was ankle-deep in the gunk. Oh dear! She was quite shocked and made a lot of noise. It turned out it her sock wasn't particularly wet, after all, so her foot probably wouldn't get all too cold, but she wasn't keen on such logic. Jeff gave her a sock of his own, and we decided to retrace our steps as we didn't know what the path around the other side would be like.

The way back was similar to the way up. Eleanor was being very careful, and Jeff was trying to convince her she exaggerated. Oh well! Apart from a pair of quite dirty leggings we got back down to the car without issues. I would have liked to walk a bit along the tramline there, but Eleanor wasn't up for it. I could see why!

We wanted to go for a nice hot drink afterwards. We tried Bethesda first, but everything was closed. Then we went to the Anglesey Arms. I had to be there later anyway! And they have nice hot chocolate. It hadn't been the nice sunny walk it might have been on a different day. but it was nice anyway!

04 March 2018

More picketing

After the initial two strike days I went back to work. I had a student conference coming up, on a non-strike-day, and I had to prepare that. So on Monday and Tuesday I was being a scab. A traitor! Oh dear. But then I went back to the picket line on Wednesday. This time I went to the main campus. I didn't really expect an Ocean Sciences picket line anymore!

While I biked up I was overtaken by my rather fast colleague Stuart. He is one of our main strike enthusiasts! I knew where he was going. We parked our bikes and went to the picket line; that was well-manned. We decided to picket at a different entrance. Stuart scored a hi viz vest, and we both got a pile of flyers. We were ready!

I was wearing long Johns under my trousers, and I had brought my down jacket. I needed that! It was cold there. The main building is on top of a hill. Stuart didn't seem to be wearing much considering the circumstances. I suppose he has some inner fire to keep him warm. He was really good at engaging with people! I am quite sure he had voted for the strike. I hadn't. You can tell the difference.

We mainly talked with students (of the business school, mainly) and other staff, but there also was building work going on, and we chatted with the builders too. Initially they were skeptical; I suppose they earn a fraction of what we earn. Especially Stuart with his professor's salary! But after some talking they decided we were essentially in the same boat. We need to show our employers from time to time they can't walk over us! They quite sympathised. And when a chap with a charming dog joined us the atmosphere became even more cheerful. One of the builders had a dog just like that!

At one point a lady from the cafe in the building came out with a tea for us. That was nice! It did lead to Stuart breaking his own picket line in order to go to the loo, but hey ho. But after some two hours we figured we had done our bit. While walking back to the main entrance we came across a bloke from my Welsh class who was striking too. I hadn't seem him in a while! Life events were stopping him from showing up. But after saying goodbye to him we went back to our bicycles. Talks had restarted, but it remained to be seen if that would result in enough to call off the rest of the strike. I might be doing more of this!

Stuart with hi viz vest and flyers, and chap with charming dog

03 March 2018

Navigation training

There's always room for improvement! I tend to be OK navigating but I know I could be better. And even if not; doing some practice with the climbing club is always nice. When an email came in about a morning of practice near Capel Curig I signed up. I had been a bit frustrated about having felt the need to spend a sunny Saturday indoors (stuff to do!) and this would get me out of the house. And the Crimpiau, our target, are pretty!

We met in Cafe Siabod for a cuppa beforehand. 'We' were Simon, Eifion, Alan and me. Simon, who recently qualified as a Mountain Leader, lead the exercise and told us what he had in mind. He would make us navigate in turns to rather specific places. Nice!

I was first. I navigated to a nearby footbridge. I got confused at one point as the path made a wobble that wasn't resolved on the map! But otherwise all went well. Alan did the next leg, to a little hillock. From there we compared stride size. It's good to know how many steps is 100m! The men knew but I didn't. We had them pace 100m, and they all ended within a meter of each other, and I just measured to them. Useful! It's 76 steps (only counting my left leg) for me. Under these specific circumstances.

Snowdon in the distance

Such a sunny day

Eifion took the next leg. We also took time to chat and admire the landscape in the glorious sunshine! But then Simon made us pace to a next benchmark so no talking took place for a while. All were counting in their heads!

At that next location we were above the pass to Llyn Geirionydd. Lovely! We took a triangulation on Moel Siabod and y Grimpiau. Then we sat down for lunch. Lovely! The men unpacked their bags and compared gadgets. Whistles, knives, emergency shelters, repair sets, bivi bags; it all came out. I was using my bag mainly to lug warm flasks around! And my repaired down jacket, which I ended up not needing.

Simon regards Eifion's navigation suspiciously

Happy me with map

We then went back, via some more locations set out by Simon. And by about 2PM we were back at the cars! It had been nice. It was such a lovely day. And I had done quite some Welsh practice as only Simon isn't a confident Welsh speaker.

When I was in Capel Curig anyway I phoned Rose, the owner of 'my' new house. Could I have a look at the Japanese Knotweed situation? She said she was away but her brother was cat-sitting; I could pop by. And I did! He was very nice. He first took me into the garden but it looked like you couldn't get onto the riverbank from there without getting tangled in brambles. We walked around and tried again. Some googling of Japanese Knotweed had taught me what it looks like. There was a fair bit! But it seemed not to be spreading into the garden.

The I was invited in. I had a chat with the brother, who was a hydrologist. He had all sorts of views on Academia! And had lived in the Netherlands. And keeping talking seemed to run in the family. The cat joined in too! I look forward to living there...

02 March 2018

Repair the down jacket

I tore my down jacket on the eve of a sunny but cold weekend; such bad timing! But such tears should be repaired soon anyway. You don't want to lose your down! When I got home after the incident I rummaged a bit in my drawers, looking for something to repair the jacket with. I found an old lanyard of a suitable size and shape in there. Excellent! It said 'the fan experience'; I thought it would be fun to stitch the word 'experience' over the tears. This experience hopefully taught me to keep my jacket away from sharp rock! And the strike gave me the time to do it. I think it worked! I hope my repairs will last. And that I will get to test it in the mountains soon!

 The damage
 Damage repaired!

01 March 2018

Just one visitor in the dig

It would finally happen; the ThursdayNighters would come and have a look at what Miles and I were up to in the dig! I looked forward to that. I would not travel up with them, and most certainly not down; as I was on strike, I could be in the dig a bit earlier. And I was tired so I looked forward to being home at a reasonable time.

We set to work. We had three rocks to clear, hopefully before the visitors arrived. We set to work! They were so big we decided to break them up a bit before chucking them down. After a while we heard voices. The ThursdayNighters! I slithered down to welcome them. And to remove some rubble from the passage; Miles had been chucking a lot of rubbish down and that should be out of the way. Edwyn, who was the first to come up, grumbled a bit about this lack of manners. Oh dear!

He came up and had a look at the far end of the dig. He saw it was a bit tricky, but agreed it was doable. But nobody else appeared! Maybe they thought there wasn't enough space, although we had told Edwyn there sure was. But with Edwyn coming down again surely they would come up. Miles and I took a break, waiting for the next person. But nobody came! They hadn't even said bye! Such manners.

We went back to work. I showed Miles how I though we could support the slab, and how to proceed from there. He agreed! But figured we needed different fittings. He'd bring them the next day. But then we called it a day. Miles chucked some small stuff down and followed himself. When he was clear I brought down the big slabs.

When we walked out we heard voices. The ThursdayNighters again! Most of them, that is; some were dangling from a rope out of sight. It was nice to see them! Only seeing Edwyn had been a bit meagre. But we left after a while. We came out into a beautiful moonlit night. And I was home at a reasonable hour!