30 April 2018

Visit by sister and her entire family

My sister had visited me in all my foreign homes. But she had always come alone! And then suddenly she phoned me to suggest she pop by with the entire family (husband Aernoud, and children David (15), Abe (13) and Nora (11)). She suggested just after my dad's birthday. It would be a bit weird to see her in Wales so soon after seeing her in the Netherlands, but the alternative was in autumn. I didn't fancy that! I tend to be swamped by teaching then. Now I would manage to do my rather mild end-of-term teaching load in between social engagements, and what would have to wait was my house. And it can! There's no deadline on that. And it is a bit awkward to have it featuring rooms that are complete tips for too long, but hey, I got to see my entire sister's family!

I flew home from my dad's birthday on Monday. Petra flew to Wales on Tuesday. It was not a very nice day! It rained a lot. But she got safely to Gerlan. When she got there she texted me so I walked up. They were in a very cute cottage!

That evening weather improved a bit, so Petra and I went for a small walk. It was nice! And the next day I had my first year tutorial talks, but nothing after that, so I was back at their cottage for lunch. Petra offered to go to my place with the whole family and help with the garden! But again, the weather was nice, so she figured we could walk there with a big loop, so we'd see more of the surroundings. And so we did. We walked over a nice path, but it wasn't leading us as the crow flies. Aernoud and the kids thought it was silly to follow it. Petra and I didn't! So we split. We scampered over the path to where we would meet again. From a distance I thought Aernoud's trousers looked a bit unusual. And they were! They had crossed a swamp. Nora had managed to keep her feet dry, but all the men were at least soaked to the ankles, and Aernoud had managed to sink in up to his thighs. Oh dear! They wanted to go home for clean clothes first. The dry women went on.

Family still with dry feet

Nora with Ysgolion Duon in the background

Nephews in a sheep fold

 I thought a cup of tea was in order but no; Petra immediately started pulling out weeds while Nora demanded my lawnmower. I had looked up the users' manual online, so now I had an idea of how to start it. It worked!

A while later the men appeared. They wanted me to wash their clothes, as their cottage didn't have a washing machine. And they wanted old newspapers to stuff their shoes with. They did some barefoot gardening! And David continued with my wallpaper stripping activities.

 Lots of relatives working in the garden

Digging a vegetable bed

Progress was amazing, but every two seconds someone came up to me to ask how I wanted something, where something was, if I had a this or that, and more such issues. You couldn't sort one out before another one hitting you. It was exhausting! I was really appreciative of the help; the garden really looks better now. But I was drained. I decided to not join them for dinner. I needed to be alone for a bit! And I needed to put the gardening equipment back, get rid of all the plant waste this had produced, clean up all the wallpaper shreds in the living room, etc etc. It was good to have a bit of time to calm down!

The next day I only had dinner and a cup of tea with them. They went mountain biking and I couldn't join as I had work until after lunch. On Friday we did a game of Carcassonne. They had visited Caernarfon Castle but I hadn't been able to join due to work.

On Saturday we would have the whole day together: we would go underground. I had rallied Phil and Jason to my side, and I had borrowed hats from David and Edwyn. Together we would get there! Petra's family fills up their car, so I shared one with Phil. Jason came from another direction. We gathered at the Lakeside Cafe at 9:15 for breakfast. That was nice! There Phil also asked if we had a key. Oops! No! I'm so used to hitchhiking along on Miles' key I had forgot all about it. But Jason had Mick's garden key with him so we were OK. Phew!

We tried to put everyone in boots, hats and gloves, and walked up. And in! The entrance is flooded these days and not all had wellies, so it was a bit of a faff for some to get in. But we did! And we had decided to do the reverse round trip. That keeps the wet bits (except the entrance) for the end! And there's enough fun to be had.

We did a small detour to the new bridge. Always fun! Not everyone enjoyed the old vein incline but all made it without incident. One of the big pulls of the place turned out to be the flooded chambers, that you can throw rocks into. And communication went fine. I sometimes had to do a bit of translation for Nora but otherwise all sorted itself!

In the compressor chamber we had a cup of tea and then we went on, through the manway. We had a look at the caban (from above and below) too. Not much later we were in the wet bit, and then the only thing we still had to do was climb back up to lake level.

Outside we did a group pic, and on the way back we saw Miles was in the MO, so we popped by to say hello. We then had another cup of tea in the cafe, and then we were off!

 Post-trip group pic

That afternoon I did yet another small walk with Petra. It was a beautiful day! And after that we all went for dinner in the Llangollen. That was nice too! And the next morning they popped by to drop off all supplies they hadn't managed to finish themselves. I don't think I will either, to be honest!

It was cool to finally show all of them where I live! Even though where I live is a bit of a building site. I'm sure my sister will be back; maybe even more of them! 

29 April 2018

My dad's 80th birthday

My dad is a bit like the previous Dutch monarch. She has her birthday in winter, and thinks chances of having good weather then are slim, so she used to celebrate it in late April instead. This winter she turned 80. And so did my dad! Who decided to celebrate it in late April. And it was a bit close to my date of moving into the new house, but well, first things first! So I flew to the Netherlands for only a weekend (I saw coming I might be busy with houses and/or work, so I had booked a short trip), leaving behind a house that still needed a lot of work.

It would be a special birthday. My father had tried to celebrate his 70th with all his daughters, but with two of them not on speaking terms (and one not on speaking terms with his wife) that hadn't happened. And he hadn't really made a conscious effort to change the situation, but he hadn't changed his wishes either. So when quite unrelated to his birthday he had started to improve his relationship with mainly my middle sister (but also, when he was at it anyway, with me) he thought he might have a chance to do better on his 80th. So he went on a mission, and to everyone's surprise he was successful! So for the first time since my PhD viva I would see both my sisters in the same space. Exciting! And to make it even more exciting, my Finnish sister would bring her weekend family. She has a sort of foster child, Miro, and she would bring both him and his father Jiri to the birthday. And I'd never met them before!

On the Friday I went straight to my mother, as usual. Which was great! I was there early enough to have a brief beer with her in the garden before thunder chased us inside again. It was great! And on Saturday morning I went to Scheveningen, as that was where Marieke and her men were staying, so I would get to see them a bit before we would both vanish into the birthday crowd. I met up with them in a petting zoo. Miro was a bit shy but I didn't impose myself so very soon he was too engaged with baby goats again to mind me. It was good!

We then got ready for joining the actual birthday party. I seemed to be the only one who was keen to not be late! It was a bit stressy; the party was a ride in historic trams, and my father had warned they would just leave when it was time to leave. Anyone who wouldn't be there would be left! And I didn't want that to happen. We got there just at the recommended time. I was relieved!

My father was in excellent spirits. And why not; he had relatives, friends, ex-colleagues and neighbours all gathered for his birthday; he was in fine health, the weather was great, and he had a tram from 1924 and one from 1912 ready for him! What's not to like.

Wim does a welcome speech

When the trams set off we trundled through the Hague and Scheveningen. We stopped for a group photo, and for a drink and a snack. Later we stopped for a few minutes at the beach. During stops people were encouraged to swap trams, so they would mingle. And the trip ended at the the Hague public transport museum. It was full of trams! And had some buses we didn't end up seeing. But my dad likes buses too. There we got a tour.

In the tram from 1912

A museum tour from a suitably greasy tram connoisseur

After the museum the group split; those who would go for dinner and those who didn't. It turned out that nobody knew who was in which group; something in the organisation had gone slightly awry. But many of us proceeded, still by tram, to the Garoeda restaurant, for dinner. An awkward moment followed; I walked in in the rear guard, with my Finnish sister. When we got in, the only table that still had space for us was the one my other sister was on. Oh dear! A quick reshuffle followed and then we could all enjoy dinner. It was lovely!

After dinner all went their way. I would go to Harderwijk with my dad, but things got late, and well, my love for ending up in bed rather early is barely a secret. I bailed out on Amersfoort station! I left them and went to my mother's. That way I was in bed at a reasonable time!

Three brothers at the dinner

I spent the Sunday with my mother. Did the usual thing of going for a run. And I did my hair, and did the usual pootling around. It was great! 

It was a bit of a hit-and-run visit, but it was good! My dad had, I think, the birthday he had hoped for, and I got to see many people I was glad to see, and I must admit it was nice to have a lazy Sunday after the recent hectic house business. All good!

27 April 2018

History of the house

After the important stuff had been done my solicitor asked me to pop by her office to retrieve some paperwork. I wasn't sure what kind of paperwork! But I popped by. It was quite a pile! But with all the moving house stuff under way I didn't have much time to have a look at it. One evening I had a quick look. It was a pile of old title plans and purchase documents and whatnot! Very cool! In 1961 the house had been worth forty pounds. And I even had a document stating it had sold for only ten. And I could trace the history of the place through time. It had changed house number from 14 to 13. Originally, there had been houses on the other side of the street too (where the parking lot is now), and even on the river bank, where they now is only my garden, and the neighbour's garden. My garden had been a slate yard! The neighbour had already mentioned something along these lines, but now I had it in print. And the garden belonging to the house had originally run parallel to the river. Clearly, some of the land had been changing hands!

With that knowledge I also looked at some old online maps. The house has at least been there since the very end of the 19th Century. I hope to find out more details when I at some point go through the documents in greater detail! And I hope to find out if indeed it had been a pub. And when. I like that you get the history of the house when you buy it! It's a little treasure trove. Stay tuned for more interesting findings!

26 April 2018

Above ground Thursday Night

It was one of those weeks in which I would not be digging but going to whatever venue was on offer with the Thursdaynighters. I saw on the forum that would be Rhosydd. David warned it would be a late night! I like Rhosydd but I don't like late nights. And I would fly to the Netherlands the next day. I didn't want to arrive knackered!

Then it looked like I wouldn't go at all. I had sofa issues! But thanks to David and Paul these got resolved, so I would be going anyway. But I would drive myself, so I was free to leave when I wanted!

When we gathered we had Phil. He was in it for his recent routine; join us for the walk up only, and then go home. I wondered if I should do the same.

We walked up. It had been such a hot sunny day elsewhere, but it was foggy in Cwmorthin. Luckily it's beautiful when foggy too!

David, Paul and Jason put on their underground outfits. I decided to indeed return with Phil! And I think it was the right choice. I don't know when the others came out, but I was home early enough to find out where I would park the next morning on the airport, phone my mum to say what time I would land, figure out where to gather for my dad's birthday, and start packing. Good! And the next Thursday my sister and her entire family would be around. Not sure if we would go underground then!

Get rid of the sofa

One fine day I was at a barbecue in Tromso when someone asked me if I wanted a sofa bed. Eh, well, yes! They come in handy, don't they? And it did. I had it in Norway, in Plymouth, in York and in Menai Bridge. Many a guest has slept on it, and I have spent many a happy hour sitting on it reading a book. But when I bought the house and found out my comfi chair didn't even fit into the living room I was sure the sofa's time had come. But what to do with it? I phoned Antur Waunfawr, a company whose aims I support, and they agreed to pick it up. I had asked them to phone before actually showing up as I didn't want to spend hours in a house that's empty apart from said sofa. They didn't, and we had to reschedule. When they then showed up after this time phoning me, the man went looking for its fire label. A fire label? That's a British thing, and this isn't a British sofa. Couldn't they have mentioned that before? A lot of time had been wasted.

I plonked it on Freecycle but time was short. I would pop to the Netherlands, and my sister would visit, and all of that would take time away from possible sofa exchanges. Two persons showed interest but nothing came of it. It was starting to get stressy so I decided to just go try to stuff it in the car and chucking it. I went home on a hot Thursday and lugged the thing out of the living room. I couldn't get it out of the front door, though! And then I tried the back door. That didn't work either! I even started to damage the door. How did that thing move in and out of all the addresses it has been? I gave up. The dump would close at 4PM and I wouldn't make it anymore. I left it in the kitchen and I figured I would have to go back, disassemble it, and try again. The letting agency would have viewings the next day! Can you leave a sofa in the kitchen? And I was getting fed up, I wanted to get rid of the thing. But it was Thursday, so I went back to work to tell David I wasn't coming that night. Stuff to do!

The innocuous-looking sofa

The sofa as I left it in the kitchen

To my surprise I found Paul (of the Thursdaynighters) in David's office. David offered to help with the bloody thing. I figured we had a chance of getting it out if we brought a screwdriver; the sofa stands on stubby feet, and removing these would make it about one inch smaller. Might just be enough! And It was! We plonked it in David's Landrover. He and Paul figured they could get rid of it at a different dump that was open later. I tended to the door.

Later that day I saw them again at the Cwmorthin parking lot; they had managed to get rid of it! With some effort; a dump employer had decided David's Landie is a commercial vehicle and that he needs a permit. Commercial? How so? And they clearly are more fussy than in Llandygai, where I managed to dump a lot of Rose's stuff with the (actual) commercial vehicle of Glyn the joiner. But well, in the end it worked. The house is empty! I can give back the keys and then all is sorted! And I will only have one house to worry about.

25 April 2018

Stove work under way

I thought the first thing that should happen in the new house would be taking out the old fireplaces. Doing that would cause a lot of mess, and I figured it would be best to get that out of the way before all painting and such would happen! But it was hard to find a suitable stove person. The first people I contacted wouldn't even pop by to prepare a quote until April 9th; the second said they would get in touch and never did; the third couldn't come by very soon either. When the painter/decorator popped by he heard me say something along those lines, and recommended what I think was his son in law. Well, bring it on!

The two people I had contacted before gave quotes that I figured took the piss. This chap, Steven, gave a reasonable one. He got the job! And he set to work, with some contractors. While I was at work they pulled out both fireplaces to see what was underneath (after me having pulled the wood off one of them). I hoped raw slate!

In the hallway, it turned out that there was indeed a cavity in the slate. Two brick columns had been built up on the side for structural support, but for the rest you looked straight at the slate. Just as I had hoped! This was working out. The other one, in the living room, worked out differently. A brick fireplace had been put in in the seventies! And in such a way it was now part of the weight-bearing construction. Steven didn't want to pull the brick out. I could see his point. So we agreed on that one staying brick. A bit strange in a slate house but what can one do!

The fireplace in the hallway after the first round of demolition

The fireplace in the hallway after the second round of demolition 

The fireplace in the living room after the first round of demolition  

The skip in front of the house after the first round of demolition; blimey doesn't a lot of stuff come out. 

The plan now is: Steven et al remove the brick bits from the hallway fireplace, and build up slate support instead. I go looking for a suitable piece of slate for a lintel. They will put that in. In the living room they will only remove some ugly breeze blocks from the brick structure and clean it up. That one should soon be ready for having a stove put in! It's starting to look good! I look forward to having that work done. And then I can still make a lot more mess tearing the ceiling out, but well, I'll tidy up afterwards...

24 April 2018

More simple pleasures

There are three small supermarkets on the high street. I am trying them all. Recently I bumbled to the last one on a beautiful sunny day. I didn't expect much I admit, but one of the first things I saw when I walked in was a lot of loose vegetables. Great! The others don't have that. I just needed dinner for the night, so I bought a potato and a leek, both without packaging. (I had tomatoes and cheese at home.) Then I walked past the beer isle and blimey, it had all local beers I had heard of, and a lot I hadn't! Great! I bought one I had been wondering about; there is a shop on the high street I've only seen up close when it was closed, but it says 'cwrw Ogwen' (Ogwen beer) on the façade and has lots of beer bottles in the window. I'm not sure if it is a café or a pub or a very restricted beer shop or the front of a brewery or something entirely different. But here was the beer! I bought one. It was nice! And it was called 'Chwalfa', after The Big Strike that is so important in Bethesda's history. I read the book!

When I paid for my groceries I expressed in Welsh I appreciated the aspects of the shop I just mentioned. And the lady at the check-out didn't mind my outrageous accent and cheerfully answered in Welsh. And when I walked back, with the sunny mountains in the background, I was reminded again of that life is good!

Chwalfa beer, from the Ogwen Brewery

22 April 2018

Peer guides celebrated

As a university we depend on students for our income. We need to attract and keep them! And we can't do that as staff alone; we need student peer guides. They guide the freshers through their first week at uni, and they guide prospective students and their parents around on open days. They get paid for the open days, but not for the welcome week. That's just good for their CV! But they are important and once every year the university emphasises that with a ceremony. All peer guides are invited, they all get a certificate, and there are awards for extra good peer guides. And as the peer guide coordinator of the School of Ocean Sciences I attended! I had put on a dress especially.

It's a ceremony for the entire uni, so it takes a while to hand out all certificates. But it's a well-oiled machine! It was a bit of a pity no awards went to SOS peer guides, but hey ho. It's a big university! And I was glad to be there!

SOS peer guides with their certificates (there are many more, but they don't all come to the ceremony)

No further strikes

After the union meeting I attended, a lot of union emails flew around. I have to admit I mainly ignored them. It's a busy time, with work and house and unexpected social engagements! And those who read my previous union post know I am a bit ambivalent about it all. So I was glad an email pinged in: the union had accepted a new proposal by Universities UK, and negotiations would restart! There would be no late April/early May strikes! So that means all students can graduate! We don't have to worry about sticking sticks between the spokes of their lives! I'm glad. I hope the end to all this turmoil will be positive! And I'm clearly still not a Bethesda-worthy union member but well, ehm, I hope this is the last time I will get the opportunity to show whether I am or not...

21 April 2018

Visit by Helgard

I left Norway in 2009. A long time ago! But then suddenly I got an email from Helgard!  She had to do a course in Colwyn Bay  (or somewhere near there) and she had rightly figured that that wouldn't be very far from me. So did I have time to meet up? Well, yes! I'll make time. This was such a great surprise!

She took the early flight, which meant she could be at her hotel at noon-ish. I made sure to be there by then! Soon a white car pulled up. I looked in; was it Helgard? But the driver was some bloke, so I stopped paying attention. Then it turned out Helgard was the passenger! There she was! After all these years. She hadn't changed a bit.

She got in; the plan was to drive to mine as she was curious about my new house. I also figured she may be hungry by then. After that we could do a walk! And so we did. On the way to Bethesda I fried my brain; I tried to speak Norwegian, but a lot of Welsh came out. I can't speak these two languages in too close a succession! But due to us having learned Norwegian together, she is used to me blending a few languages, although this was the first time I used one she couldn't make head or tail of.

When we got to Bethesda she liked the house, and took pictures of it for her boyfriend Carsten. And we had lunch. We caught up as well! Carsten had a new job.

After lunch I packed a bag that I left leaning against the table, and we set off towards Ogwen Cottage. My plan was to walk to Llyn Bochlwyd, and take it from there. With me having forgot my bag I didn't have as many clothes with me as I would have liked, so when we approached the ridge I suggested we go left, into the valley east of Tryfan (where I had briefly been with Jeff and his family), rather than right over the ridge, and down through Cwm Idwal. She agreed! It was a beautiful walk if you ask me.

Helgard enjoys the landscape

More beautiful landscape

When we got back to the road we crossed it , and walked back along the other side of Llyn Ogwen. It was still beautiful! And after that we were hungry enough to go home, changes shoes (me only), and drive to Conwy for dinner. We randomly parked, and just walked around a bit. It rained, but that didn't stop us. Conwy is rather pretty! We looked at the menus of some pubs. After a while we came across the Erskine Arms, and decided on them. We had dinner and then walked a bit more. We found a point where you can get on top of the city walls (it all felt very York!) and walked around. When we were done with that it was getting dark. I imagined Helgard was getting tired, as she had had to get up at 4AM British time to get here! And I had to get ready for my working day the next day. So I drove her back to the hotel, and we said our goodbyes. I hope she'll come back! We met in Tromso
which is a lot more spectacular than Wales, but now she lives in Oslo, and actually now Wales wins.
So she might! I should get that house ready so I can have guests!

Llyn Ogwen

Helgard photographing Llyn Ogwen with Tryfan as the background

Rainy Conwy

More rainy Conwy

19 April 2018

House warmed, feet cooled

I thought I should show off my house to the ThursdayNighters. And it’s hard to rally them around if you don’t dangle and underground carrot in front of their faces! So I suggested the trial levels on the other side of the valley, as they are within walking distance. But then one of the men suggested a rather watery venue even much closer to home. What a good idea! It’s nice to just trundle to your underground space (without having to lug up the hill) and if you’re going to do a cold wet trip, you might as well do it at walking distance from a nice warm house with a kettle in it! So we did that. 

Originally, the men would arrive at 4, on request of David who wanted to take advantage of the good weather to get stuff done. That gave me some time to do work on the house. But while I was putting anti-slip on the steps down into the garden outside he phoned. Was 5.30 good too? Well, I didn’t have much choice I supposed; if that would be when he’d arrive that would be it! But Phil’s plan had been to just have a cup of coffee with us, walk us to the entrance, and then go home as he had to pick up his son. He still came at 4! It was nice. He had only seen the house without stuff in it! It looks better now I’d say. 

Then at 5.30, David arrived. He was impressed with the progress I’d made since he’d seen it! And Ed appeared too. Then, suddenly, Sue (with whom I'd biked back from Welsh class) was at the door, with her two children. That’s nice! But slightly confusing timing. I showed her the house. She was impressed! And we spoke Welsh, helped by her eldest, as she was a native speaker. David and Ed looked after themselves. Then Sue disappeared while Paul turned out to already be there. All had a good look at the idiosyncrasies of the house, but then it was time to put on our boots and go. Jason hadn’t shown up; a pity! But what can one do. 

We walked to the entrance, past the Indian takeway, where we got some menus. We would order from them once out! 

Paul lead us to the entrance. It was a bit wet indeed! Oh well. We walked in; me at the front. That way I saw we were scaring a fish. Cool! Not the scaring, but encountering it, of course. At some point it tried to hide on the side, which allowed us to pass. 

My feet were very cold, in spite of the neoprene socks! And I noticed I had spent too much time standing still (sorting out curtain rods, stripping wallpaper) so they hurt. Oh dear!
When we arrived at the interesting bit (not that the level wasn’t interesting, but it is, well, just a tunnel) I quite hurt. I hadn’t thought this through too much! Maybe I should do shorter wallpaper stints and combine it with paperwork more, to spread the load. My feet are in quite good nick these days, but standing still still gets to me! 

We did admire the stuff that was there to see: shafts, carts, machinery, shoes, etc etc. The usual! But every new venue is special anyway. I also sat down for some oatcakes as I had already been hungry when we went in. Now it was a lot later! 

Cool grafitti

Ed poses with a block

Just after 9PM we started our way out. I went ahead. Some of the bits are slow for the tall people as they have to stoop, where I don’t have to. I decided to just go. In a sloshy tunnel you can’t talk to each other anyway! Too noisy. I legged it out and walked home. I was glad to get out of my wet socks! And I boiled the kettle.

An eternity later the others arrived. Paul was tired, and wanted to go home; he had to work the next day. David, Ed and me chose our curries. And after a cup of beverage-of-choice we went to pick up the food, and ate it in the kitchen. The house is warmed! And I hope the other ThursdayNighters will get to see it soon too.

17 April 2018

The big work commences

It was time to pause the moving stuff around in the house, and start on the actual work! I want to get rid of swathes of wallpaper, and a ceiling, and two fireplaces… and that work doesn’t do itself. So when I was sufficiently settled to be able to perform my daily routines smoothly, the wallpaper stripper and the crowbar and the drill came out. I’m making good progress! I leave the fireplaces to specialists (after having pulled the wooden front of one of them off; that gave me an idea of the scale of the job, and of the necessity to strip the wallpaper off there too) , but I’m doing well on the wallpaper. I borrowed a wallpaper steamer from Phil, and it does a great job! And when I was working in the staircase and realised the ladder I had inherited from Rose was too short I suddenly remembered my neighbour was a retired painter/decorator, and had all the ladders in the world. I borrowed a set! I can keep it as long as I want. And with his ladders I can reach anything! So I’m on a roll! The house now looks like a tip but it can only become beautiful after first becoming ugly. And the top floor (where I type this) is a fine refuge from the mess!

Wallpaper stripper in action

One of the fireplaces in a state of undress

 The pipes in the house have been moved out of sight in strange ways

Thanks to the borrowed ladder, the stripping of the staircase is going well