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!

18 November 2018

Back to Wrysgan

It had been a while since I had been underground! And the last time was in the dig. After that night, work got a bit too much for a while. But I emerged on the other side and decided I could come out with the Thursdaynighters again! And even all the way. Not just a walk to the entrance and then bail out like the previous time. The last time I had actually been fully underground with the lot had been in September...

I hitched a ride with Phil. He hadn't been out on a Thursday night for a while either! And by teaming up we could just go home after the trip would be done; David, Paul and who not would go for a pizza afterwards. And the venue would be Wrysgan; the mine on the other side of the valley from Cwmorthin. We had an unfinished project there; we had managed to establish a through trip, but is was a sketchy one; it would need shoring up to make it a long-term feature. There is a bit too much potential for rocks falling through the crucial passage!

There were a fair few of us; Don, Chris, Edwyn and Jason were there too. Nice to see them all! They had assumed I had been digging the past weeks. If only! And it was a quite sultry, moonlit night; you can't have enough of these.

We walked to the entrance, got in, checked if the rope down from the 'wormhole' was in position (it was) and walked the long way to the top of the wormhole. We had a sandwich stop along the way. Always nice! And once we were there, we pondered how to make it safe, and took some measurements. Then we all dropped it and were ready to come out. What a nice quick trip! We were even out earlier than we usually are when we are digging.

I don't know when we'll actually do the shoring up; the project has been lasting for years and getting a bunch of cats like underground explorers to collaborate isn't easy. Oh well! No rush. But it's nice that for now, this through-trip is there!

16 November 2018

Run the other way

The last time I wrote about running was in June! Except the write-up of the 10k I ran in July. I tended to run landwards, but a long time ago I decided to go the other way. In that direction, the bicycle path I run on goes to Felin Fawr; the mill where the Penrhyn slate was processed. Beyond the mill the railway hasn't either been maintained or turned into a bicycle path, so if you want to run or bike on you have to join the road. Quite some way further north the railroad has been turned into a bicycle path, but that is where the old passenger railroad curves west to head for the station, and the bicycle path jumps track and follows the slate railroad to the harbour. But the yard has a wall and that wall has an opening. And one day I decided to just see what was behind that. And there was a public footpath there! And it follows the river Galedffrwd, which early on has lots of interventions (artificial waterfalls and such) and later becomes very scenic and dreamy. It's a beautiful patch of woodland!

I had never run there before with a camera, but I figured it was time to document this route too. It's lovely! And as a bonus I bumped into a lady from Welsh class who, together with her (rather young) son, was walking the dog. And the autumn colours were lovely!

View over the village

The bicycle path going seaward

The gate to Felin Fawr

 The hole in the wall

The artificial waterfall just behind the hole in the wall. I guess this is where one of the waterwheels was! 

More riverine infrastructure 

The big waterfall upstream

The mill pond that feeds the waterfall

A tributary with a dead-end (?) path next to it

Where the tributary joins the Galedffrwd 

Scenic inclined trees along the path that goes to Mynydd Llandygai

15 November 2018

Last Open Day of autumn

I am supposed to be at every Open Day. If they are in spring or summer, I will now have to organise them as well. In autumn I only have to be there to sort out the Peer Guides. And that is getting increasingly easy. If you do it more often you can run on routine!

This autumn I was lucky; I got away with only doing two out of three. The one in the middle fell in the middle of the Swamphike and the organiser was OK with sorting out the peer guides himself! That was really nice of him. And the third, in November, was not very busy. It was easy to sort out with the limited number of peer guides I had.

Soon I will have to line up staff and demonstrators for the Open Days that will start in February! I hope these go well. I look forward to having organised enough of them to not be stressed about it. But when this one was sorted (and we managed to bring the venue back to its original state within ten minutes after the prospective students and their entourage left!) I was glad it was over for a while and I could go home and enjoy the weekend! I needed that...

14 November 2018

Apple season effectively over

It's mid-November! I didn't really think the apple season would last this long. But it did. This morning I went to the garden to get some apples and I saw this would be the last time. I picked the last (not too eaten) apples off the ground, and picked the last intact ones from the tree. It can now go and hibernate! And I will have to go back to buying my fruit. But it's been great! And I look forward to the same thing next year!

12 November 2018


Anglophones might call them nurses! I was dragged to Pontio again, to see a play. It was a Welsh play, and our Welsh teacher had suggested we go see it instead of having one of our course nights. Most of the course agreed!

The play, Nyrsys, was a mixture of paying attention to the NHS's 70th birthday, and celebrating Welsh women. It was a Verbatim play, meaning that the maker had interviewed lots of nurses and assembled the whole play from the direct words of the interviewees. I had never seen a play like that before. It was also in a way a musical; there was much singing.

I was completely knackered after a trying day, but I was glad to just relax and think of other things for a bit. Upon walking into Pontio I immediately found the others from the class. And soon we went into the room where the pre-show talk for Welsh learners was held. The lady who had written the play was interviewed by one of the Welsh tutors. And questions from the audience were encouraged. It was quite nice!

When it was done there was some time left, so I went to have a drink with two of the men. Then we went into the actual room.

It went the usual way! I enjoyed it, but couldn't quite follow everything. That happened before with Brecshit, the Father, and the Huw Edwards talk. Oh well! It was important I enjoyed it. And I liked the verbatim aspect. It wasn't a play with a plot as such, but it gave a good idea of being a nurse in this day and age, and the fact that everything was a quote made it extra poignant. And even though it was heavy at times; a cancer ward is not a place where you can avoid tragedy, there was plenty of humour in it too.

The five characters were distillates from the countless people interviewed, but became credible characters. They spanned the ranks in the ward. And they were all passionate about nursing, and all regretted the relentless financial cuts that had lead to them not being able to provide the care needed. They all wanted to sometimes just be able to sit down with a patient and talk. At the end of the play, some announce they are leaving to work in the private sector. I can imagine! And that was the saddest; that the government gives so little priority to healthcare that patients suffer and dedicated staff get pushed out. I hope one day that stops being true!

We all enjoyed the show, but when it was done, and there was an after-show chat available too, we all decided it had been enough. We went home. And I already have my next Welsh language public event lined up! A discussion about the Welsh government's aim to have 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050...

11 November 2018

Wing mirror debacle

In Britain, it is allowed in many places to park on one side of the road, even if that means the road effectively becomes a one lane road. I suppose there is little choice; the cars are there, the old towns are not designed to hold so many, so there is no other space to put them than on the road. But it doesn't make for pleasant driving.

The two roads that lead to work both have parking on one side. The one is quite narrow so you really can't pass each other; the other one is funnel-shaped so on one side you can pass an oncoming car, but somewhere along the way you can't do that anymore. Depending on exactly where the cars are parked you have to make a call on where to pull in. Generally that works fine. You have to wait sometimes, but in general, it works out with the people technically having priority just periodically letting a blob of cars coming from the other side pass. Sometimes someone demands their priority when that is quite against the unwritten rules of the road (probably people who live elsewhere) and then some angry gesturing follows. Sometimes someone is not quite certain if there is enough space, which can lead to either unnecessary waiting or close calls. And sometimes it goes wrong.

I don't know if it had anything to do with me having had a bit of a hard few days behind me, but the day after I was told I had to re-do the unpleasant job of allocating dissertation titles to students, I misjudged the situation myself. I thought I could just squeeze between a passed car and an oncoming one. I couldn't! That was two wing mirrors damaged. Shit. I was already quite frayed but this didn't improve anything. If I want to be careless with my car that's my problem but now I had damaged someone else's.

The lady whose car it was was a bit upset, but luckily, she kept her cool. I apologised and admitted it was my fault. She just took my contact details. I suggested we sort this without insurance companies involved; I suspect both our premiums would go up if we would involve them. And she trusted me. I think! She did take my car registration so maybe she did want to be able to sort it out officially if I proved untrustworthy. I can't blame her.

I went to work and phoned the garage. Did they by any chance have a spare wing mirror lying around? I didn't expect so but one never knows. They said they wanted to see the car. I brought it in, and they agreed I needed a new mirror, but they didn't have one. They recommended two scrap yards that might. So I went back to the office. One of these was not open yet; the other one only scrapped cars, they didn't dismantle them to sell the bits on. My idea of a scrap yard has to be revised now! What do they do with them then?

I decided I didn't have time for this and phoned a shop selling new parts. Did they have a wing mirror? Not yet they said, but they would order one. Could I come pick it up at one? I could really do without that as I was still trying to get the bloody dissertation allocations done. But I also wanted to get this over with. So I said I would. I then locked myself in the office for a bit. I had to get my composure back! I was a bit shaken by it all. Luckily I have practiced so after a while I got me a coffee and cracked on with work.

After lunch I picked up the new mirror, and delivered car and mirror back to the garage. I have practiced replacing wing mirrors, but this wasn't the week for it. I hoped it would be done before I had a lecture in Bangor! I didn't get a phone call so I wasn't confident. But it was done! I have a lovely new mirror.

The next day the lady contacted me to say she had too, and told me how much it had been. I refunded her and that was it. That was a rather expensive split second but well, nobody was hurt! We both have working cars again. And I will now be more careful at these funny parking-on-the-street traffic situations!

10 November 2018

Dissertation topic debacle

I ended my blog post on allocating dissertation topics to the students with the hope there would not be any further fall-out. But there was.

I got to the office, still a bit worse for wear after a hard week and a weekend of work, and was very soon accosted by one of my colleagues. He was very polite about the whole situation, but he was very explicitly not happy about the number of students he had. A few others had the same high number. And with these high numbers, you also get people with low numbers. It's a zero sum game! He said it wasn't fair. And it isn't, but then again, that just seemed to be the name of the game. I had looked at last year's numbers and it was a similarly uneven distribution. Apparently, that was fine! But this chap asked if I was fine with it if he went to get a second opinion. And sure, get as many opinions as you like.

Soon afterwards the phone rang. It was the Head of School. I had to change these allocations. He evidently had been the second opinion and put his foot down. This had to change. I wasn't happy about that but I could see his point. But I couldn't quite do that (it's a heck of a job) as I had a lot of teaching that day.

The next day I put my head down and set to work. I had another chat with the Head of School and all was clear. I would later have a chat with the Director of Teaching and Learning about the situation. I hoped to be ready to show him the new distribution. And on the clock, I got it done. I was exhausted.

Then he walked in. And told me he had had a chat with the Head of School as well. And they had changed their minds. It had to be done differently again. That was NOT what I wanted to hear! But I could see the rationale. So I got back to my computer and started again.

It wasn't even that much time to sort it out again; I was an old hand at it now. But I really didn't want any more shit so I had to make sure everyone was on board. So I ran it past the original complainant, past the Director of Teaching and Learning, and past all staff who had to take on new students. That was a lot of cat herding! People didn't pick up the phone, didn't respond to email, weren't sure, wanted more information from the person from which they would take a student but didn't want to make contact with them themselves, etc etc. I was hoping to have stuff sorted by Friday but there was still one unresolved case. It will have to be finalised the week after...

09 November 2018

Another weekend of hard graft

The week after the Swamphike would be ‘reading week'. I would have no contact hours! That should mean I would have my hands free to do all these things that needed doing. Assign the students their dissertation topics, compose a new dissertation marking schedule, prepare the upcoming lectures, make a lecture about this year’s field trip data, design an exercise to let the students practice with stable oxygen isotopes, provide my tutees with feedback on their draft essays, etc etc etc.

Of course it didn’t work that way. The Monday was lost anyway, to the hike, and the ceiling. And I still had things to attend; on Tuesday we had to practice for the upcoming  Palaeoceanography practical; I was seconded by two people who weren’t familiar with the forams it was all about. And there was a somewhat trying meeting about the Welcome Week on Thursday. And on Friday a big chunk of my day was taken up by an external guest speaker. It was a pleasure; she was lovely and her talk was great! But I left to pick her up from the railway station at 10.40 and I was back after dropping her off at 14:30. And the time in between all these commitments was largely taken up by the pesky dissertation topic allocation. So when the weekend came I still had a truckload of work to do! And the only way of dealing with that is just sitting down and doing it. So my Saturday was filled! And on Sunday I hoped to be done by lunchtime but that wasn't happening. I took a break at half past two to go for a run. It might be dark by the time I would be properly finished! 

When I had finished the feedback on the last draft essay I did something else onerous; I had been having issues with my internet and I finally got around to contacting my provider and informing them of the issue. I hope it gets sorted! It's a pain if your internet switches itself off all the time.

By the time that was done it was time to cook dinner. A weekend gone! And next weekend there is an Open Day and I have to be there. No rest for the wicked yet! I have hopes for Christmas...

07 November 2018

The plumber has been

It took a while, but it has happened! The plumber has been and has put all strange pipes in more logical places. He did it all in two days. I'm happy! He started moving a strange pipe to the side of the room. It had, for some unclear reason, run pretty much through the middle of the room. (It can be seen above my head in this post.) Now it looks all good! And the plasterer will manage to plaster around it.

Then there were pipes that ran on the inside of the door opening. That was silly as it made the opening too small! I could hardly get any furniture through. That had been the reason my comfi chair (the first one) had to reside in the conservatory. But now I'm sure I could get it through! And I hope I'll soon be in the position to put furniture in the living room. It only takes the plasterer. And painting. And a new floor...

Anyway. He managed everything in two days! One workman off the list! Great news!

Making space for the pipes in the wall

The pipe now tucked away in the corner

Pipes tucked away!

06 November 2018

No roofer needed

In early June, I had noticed the flat roof of the extension had been leaking slightly. But life got in the way and I didn't do anything about it. But now I was hoping I could convince the plasterer to come and lose up all the holes in the ceiling again, it was time to have someone look at that. So I rummaged around again in the list of contacts Phil had given me and found a roofer (also called Phil). And he agreed to come over the very same day!

The dark stuff is damp

Phil had mentioned I had met this bloke, but that information had escaped me again. So when he showed up and recognised me it all came back to me! We had been dressed all Victorian in a steam train and a mine. Good times! But now we didn't have time to reminisce as light was fading. He had to get onto the roof quick! I first showed him the indications of leaking on the inside. Then I knocked on the neighbour's door. He provided ladders again! As usual. And in a jiffy Phil the Roofer was on the roof. I fetched my caving helmet (as it has a very good light) and then joined him.

Phil had a good look and prod. And then he gave his judgement. He wasn't too worried! The material of the ceiling was the sort of stuff that can stand a bit of damp. And the leakage, he agreed, was minor. He figured I just needed to pressure-wash the wall of the house above the flat roof and give it a good new coat of paint. That should stop the ingress! It probably just seeped through cracks in the paint down to the edge of the flat roof. And some paint would stop that. I could do that myself!

Phil the Roofer even offered to lend me his pressure washer. It would be interesting to connect it to water as I have no outdoor tap. But I had indoor taps! I'm sure it can be sorted. But I may leave it until later. I should have someone else do it, anyway. It's hard to maintain  a healthy body and mind with the work pressure I've been under since the start of the academic year! I need my weekends for doing work I can't manage to finish during the week, and if not that, I need them to recover. I can afford to have other people do stuff for me; I should do that! But I'm glad this shouldn't be much work. Just paint over the cracks, literally, and that roof is ready for the next 40 years...

05 November 2018

Assigning dissertation topics

Assigning dissertation topics is a doddle! Just ask the students to give their four preferences, see how many students there are, see how many students per staff member that results in, and then distribute the students over the staff, giving as many as possible their first choice. When a topic is popular, judge on the basis of their grade for the Science Communication module of the previous year. Why that module? Tradition. But if you think about it, it's not any worse than any other criterion.

That was the theory. Reality is different, of course. I figured it would be difficult but you never know exactly how until you start doing it. Hilary, my predecessor, had made it sound easy, and by the time it was clear it wasn't, had long left. Of course!

To start with: it's a big exercise. There were 127 students, all giving 4 choices, so more than 500 preferences in total. There are 27 members of staff involved. They offer between 4 and 12 titles. People on research contracts who don't have to have dissertation students, or part-timers, tend to not offer so many. People who expect lots of students offer 10, but students are free to come up with a title themselves. That's encouraged. And that's how one staff member ended up with 12 titles. In total there were 240 titles.

Most of our students are marine biologists, so the marine biology staff get listed most. And some topics are a lot more popular than others. That gives complications! For instance, the most popular person was listed as the 1st choice by 22 students, and by 64 students in total. There was also a member of staff of which only one topic was listed as anybody’s first choice, but, of course, that one topic attracted much more people than it could accommodate. And the problem is that a lot of students have the same sort of preferences; they often list the same four members of staff, which means they not only are not so likely to get their first choice, but also not their second or third. But what to do if their fourth wasn’t happening either?
I knew sometimes people would supervise titles they hadn’t offered themselves. So when I couldn’t make everything fit as it was I started phoning people. Would they be willing to supervise this and that title, even though it was not their own? Luckily, everyone said yes. But the week was coming to an end, I knew the students were getting impatient, and I needed to do my normal teaching again. I couldn’t keep tweaking! So when I had something that was, as far as I could see, a nice balance between taking the students’ preferences into account but also spreading the load of the staff. I mailed my draft list to the man that had been appointed as some sort of sidekick. He thought it was fine. It was time to summon all thick skin I had and plonk the thing online. And then wait for the complaints from both staff and students.

It didn’t take long. It started with the staff. One of the biologists thought the load most certainly wasn’t equally distributed. He was awfully polite about it, which I appreciate, but he did make unequivocally clear he wasn’t happy. I’ll try to milk him for good ideas for next year. I’m sure it can be done better! In a way, I’m inventing the wheel here. Always happens to a certain extent when you take over someone’s module. Let’s make that wheel rounder.
Then the mails from students started to come in. It tended to be the ones who had got their third choice. I understand their disappointment! But they just can’t all get their first or second choice. And there was one student who had made an error on her preferences form, but we could fairly easily sort that. And then there were some students who showed initiative and tried to tweak their situation with their supervisors. That is fine with me! If a student can convince their 2nd choice supervisor to let them do their 1st choice topic with them then that is great. I’ve given everyone a topic; my job is done. If people then manage to improve on that I’m glad!

There were three students who hadn’t submitted preferences at all. Would they still come out of the woodwork? During the weekend, one did. In addition to a student who wanted to make a swap and complained his supervisor of choice hadn't replied to his email. This student seemed to have failed to notice it was Sunday when he wrote that. Sigh! But we’ll see how things work out in the new week. And I hope there won't be any additional fall-out…

03 November 2018

Ready for the (absent) plasterer

When the hikers left, I had a bit of day I could spend on the house! Which was good. I had been meaning to apply a second layer of oil on the living room ceiling, but it just never ended up high enough on the to do list. But the plasterer could appear any time (theoretically, at least) and it would have to be done by then! So I brought the house back to its original state, and then applied myself to the ceiling. And I got it done! It looks quite good. The only thing now is to do some cat-herding and finally get the plasterer to start the work. That would be great!

02 November 2018

Swamp hike 2018

It was easier to organise a hike some 20 years ago! We had more time to ponder routes and menus and logistics and whatnot. These days we are all old and overcommitted. But we always make it work.

This year we would go to Snowdonia again. There were voices who suggested some variation; maybe Scotland this time? But that would mean someone would have to sit down with maps and flight schedules and such and it wasn't going to happen. And I had figured we could go a bit further south. The national park sticks out quite far! And I had sort of designed routes in the Rhinogydd and near Cadair Idris, but I had only managed to communicate the former to the others, so that was going to be what we would do.

The Dutch contingent decided they could take four days off, and they booked flights and a big rental car. And I had kept my Friday free of commitments. I packed my bag in the morning and did some chores. When a text came that announced my friends were expected in about an hour's time I decided to hoover the top floor. Eh, the message had said 'half an hour'! So suddenly they were in the house. Great! Five most marvellous hike veterans. We have been doing the swamphike only since 2011 but I know most of these folks since 1993 or 1994, and I think I started hiking with at least a subsample of them not much later than that. I think the earliest hike on this blog with some of them is the ill-fated Pyrenees hike in 2008...

But back to Wales. They wanted a tour of the house first. Of course! And it was nice weather so they were very impressed with the garden. Maybe even a bit with the house, even in its unfinished state. And then they wanted lunch. And then it was time to get ready and head south!

Erik drove the big vehicle to Graigddu-isaf, just south of Trawsfynydd. We managed to park it there (we weren't the only ones interested in this area that day) and off we went! We knew rain was forecast, but that didn't stop us. Sleutel lead the way. He likes maps! And the landscape was beautiful.

Where it started

Autumnal scenes

Map reading in the rain

While we walked in the direction of the Roman Steps the weather deteriorated. It rained and then rained again and then there was hail and then rain again. And these steps are slippery when wet! And our centres of gravity were in strange places. But the view remained beautiful, and on the other side the weather improved, and we got to my intended first camping site near Llyn Cwm Bychan. We scouted for a place to pitch our tents. And to my surprise, we chose an actual campsite. But it was the most minimalist I ever saw! It was just a field with an honesty box. But it was a flat field with a nice view so we went for it. It's not as if we want disco and bingo and a swimming pool!

The 'Roman Steps'

The weather is looking up!

Our home for the night

I was worried by then, as my right ankle hurt. It had done that before! The last day of my hike with Jitske I had had the very same problem (although I don't mention that in the blog post). The problem was the tendon, and tendon can really really hurt. After the Jitske hike I had to wear my other hiking boots for weeks as the pressure of the plastic boots on that sore spot was really unpleasant and I wanted to let the injury heal. But the plastic boots were perfect for swampy conditions and I really wanted to wear them. I didn't expect problems very soon; with Jitske, it was only the final day it started hurting. But now it was a problem already on the first day! If I couldn't solve this I would have to bail out! Which I didn't want.

First things first though. There was a stream, so I washed before I did anything else. Nice! While we cooked dinner it rained again. That was not so nice. But there was great food, and there was even beer! Even though that didn't combine so well with the weather; it got cold! I had to wear an awful lot of clothes in my sleeping bag. I was glad I knew the bag alone wouldn't cut it and had brought down jackets and skiing trousers.

In the morning the weather looked better. By the time we were ready to go it was positively sunny! I had decided to cut off a bit from my foam sitting pad and stuff it in my sock, and that felt better. And soon we left the path and did a bit of bushwhacking; the path to Gloyw Lyn didn't really seem to exist. From there to to ridge there wasn't much either. My ankle was severely tested! But the foam did the job and the pain didn't get worse. Great! In the meantime it was sunny but cold and windy. The landscape was amazing! We even saw the higher peaks around (like Snowdon) dusted in white. Winter was coming!

Getting ready to leave

Crossing a wall with snowy mountains in the far background

We decided to stop for lunch at a spot outside the wind. We found shelter at a wall. That was great; it also functioned as a drying rack for tents, towels, and whatnot. And we had an amazing view into Cwm Nantcol! Life was good.

Walking down into the valley was still rather bush-whackery. Rather atypically I was glad to feel asphalt for a few hundred meter! And the valley was very scenic from close by too. And then we walked back out of it on the other side. We even came past a fair amount of mining remains! As the landscape consists pretty much of Cambrian grits I didn't expect mining, but the sedimentary rocks had been cut through later by mafic dykes, so there was something to get there after all. Manganese, apparently. A nice bonus!

Lunch with Rhinog Fach in the background

Leaving the valley on the other side

Beautiful people

Mining remains!

We were heading for Llyn Hywel, but the map was a maze of paths that started and ended entirely arbitrarily, so we needed a clever app on Sleutel's phone to aid navigation. It had more paths on it. And that made sense; paths don't start in the middle of nowhere. But we still had to navigate some untrodden terrain. Tiring! But it did pay off. After a while we were standing next to Llyn Perfeddau. The circle on the map was at the next lake on, Llyn Hywel, but the map suggested it had rather steep sides. I suggested we stay! The lake was pretty and Rhinog Fach loomed nicely over it. And I was tired.

Erik found a nice spot on the other side of the lake and we took our bags there. I did my usual bath! No swimming this year; too cold. It was cold enough as it was! I am getting old and soft and can nowadays be shivering in a thick down jacket when it's only a few degrees below zero. What happened to being happy in -24?

This time it was my turn to cook. The couscous meal went down well! And in its entirety. And there was some whisky circulating! Very nice. We even did some star (and satellite) gazing. But it was cold and quite soon we were all in bed. That wasn't as calm as we had hoped; the wind had picked up and the tents were flapping. That is annoying!

In the middle of the night I did get out to go for a leak and as I had hoped, the moon was out by that time. It was beautiful! But I didn't linger.

The next morning Viking surprised all by entirely submerging himself in the lake. What a man! I busied myself with much more modest endeavours: I put an additional piece of foam in my sock. Over breakfast we decided what to do. Was my initial plan feasible? And people started to figure out how long we could walk the last day, given that we had a fair drive back to Bethesda, and the others had to start driving to the airport by 1PM. That didn't leave much! So people suggested we might as well walk back to the car that day. People were impressed by the camping possibilities of my garden. And we could have a pub meal!

We first walked to Llyn Hywel. It was very windy there, and indeed, the lake had very steep sides. We were glad we had not chosen to camp there! And from the lake we walked down into the valley. In the beginning that was a bit of a challenge; when crossing a block field I was pretty much toppled over by the wind. But as we descended, the wind passed overhead. And we had a nice view on Rhinog Fawr.

Our camping spot the next morning

Llyn Hywel

Towards Rhinog Fawr

From the valley we were fairly soon back at the woods where the car was parked. A bit too soon! The day was still young. So we hid our bags among the trees, and walked up to Llyn Du. I had put yet another piece of foam in my sock so I was feeling fresh again. It was nice to scamper up without that big weight on my shoulders! And it was worth it. It was a nice lake. We sat at it for a while. When the sun went, we went. Back to the bags and then the car!

Look, climbers!

 Leaving the hills

Llyn Du

We drove back, and one by one we had a shower. Then we went to the Llangollen, which was, as happens quite often, closed. It may always be closed on Sunday! But we went on to the Indian restaurant. And from there to the Londis, to buy a selection of local beers. It was a nice meal!

When we were done eating it was dark and cold. Nobody felt like pitching a tent! So all the hikers spread themselves out over my house and we went to bed indoors. Why not. And the following morning there were some differences in when people came out of bed. But when all had done that we had a very lengthy breakfast! Viking made omelettes, and we had buckets of coffee.

After breakfast we did another round of admiring the garden and the river bank. And then people went to buy a bit more bara brith, and ate a bit more bread, and then it was time to pack the vehicle and wave everybody goodbye!

It had been a short hike. Maybe next year we can make it a bit longer again! But this year we had had amazing landscapes in amazing weather (except on Friday). A success! And the people are always marvellous!