31 December 2019

My mother’s sewing skills

My mother isn't particularly fond of needlework! Actually. But she is good at it (by my standards) and she likes variety, so a bit of sewing is welcome. So last time I was in the Netherlands I had given her a dress! It had a bit of a plunging cleavage; so much so I only wore it with a vest underneath. But I like wearing it on days when it's too hot for two layers. So I had asked my mum to sew a little piece of cloth in the cleavage. But there was some fitting and refitting going on and it wasn't finished when I went home.

This time I had brought the curtain that hangs in front of the cupboard on the landing. On the picture there you can't see it's a bit too long! But it is. And as I travelled by train I could take more stuff. I brought it!

That is how I came home after Christmas with an adapted dress and a perfectly sized curtain! Cool stuff!

The dress new style

The curtain, now the right size!

30 December 2019

Back by train

One would assume that going to the Netherlands by train is quite the same as coming back by train! But it is not. It already started in Amsterdam! I expected that to be similar to London. You get there in advance, have your passport checked and luggage scanned, and then get in. But in Amsterdam, there was a terminal, but it was closed. I just sat down on a bench on the platform. And when the train came everyone just got in, like it was the train to Hoofddorp. And everyone was confused as the carriages didn’t carry numbers. Everyone had to either guess or ask. A bit of a mess! And it also meant I had been early for no reason. I could have arrived two minutes in advance! But one learns. Next time I know.

I soon realised why. I had to change trains in Brussels! And that’s Schengen. London is not. So it was during my 40 minute stop there, that all the checks had to take place. It only just fit! I had about a minute to spare. I suppose it didn't help I had my mother's Brompton with me. She doesn't use it anymore so I gave it a new home. And that made travel on busy trains a bit trickier! And it's now been X-rayed...

The trip to London went well. There I got out, sorted out my luggage for the trip to Euston, and set off. And there I got a bit claustrophobic. I wanted to be out of there! Luckily there was a train going to Manchester, stopping at Crewe. I took it. My ticket allowed me any route! By then I was sweaty and tired and a bit fed up. The travel in the other direction had been a bit more serene!

In Crewe I found the train to Chester and in Chester I found the train to Bangor. It was rush hour! The train was packed. This was quite unlike the calm way down when I was sitting in spacious trains sipping tea! But I did get home. Chris gave me a lift from the station. I was quite done travelling by then! It was good to get home.

I still intend to do it again next time! But I should make sure my schedule is optimal. With not scheduling much time for getting into trains that won’t leave Schengen, but having enough time for trains that will. And keeping my luggage modest!

29 December 2019

In the Netherlands

It was that time again! For my annual Christmas trip to the Netherlands. As this time I took the train, and that takes the entire day, I didn’t stay very long. I wanted to have some time at home too! My spare room was waiting for me. And the snowy hills too. So I only saw the usual suspects! My mother, father, stepmother, sister, brother-in-law, nephews, niece, two cousins, and Roelof and Monique. That filled the days!

All went well! It was good too see everybody. And of course there were tales of imperfect health here and there, but that is unavoidable. It was good to reconnect! And I managed to not fall ill! It had been a good visit. And then it was time to have some days off at home!
Morning in Amersfoort

The cousin dinner. Later we would be four! 

In the train towards Drente

Walking the dogs (notice the neolithic grave monument in the background) 

Family pic on the sand (pic by Joke)

A Christmas day walk

27 December 2019

To the Netherlands by train: how did it go?

I was a bit apprehensive about my train trip! I had barely booked it or a massive train strike broke out in Britain. And closer to the date, half of the Southeast flooded, causing big problems for road- and rail traffic. And the French also went on strike! This didn’t bode well. I was glad I had made sure to have buckets of time in London. If one of my trains would be delayed I would still be OK!

Another thing I had not taken into account was buses. I had to get to the station first! But I was travelling out on a Sunday and when I (naively) checked for buses I was reminded that on Sunday, there are none. A disgrace to be honest! But also a cold hard fact. I figured it would have to be a taxi. Until Chris offered me a lift. That was nice!

So on that Sunday morning I packed my bag with inhuman amounts of food and drink. It would be a long trip! And then Chris appeared. He dropped me off. The train was perfectly punctual! So far so good. I got started on the Saturday paper, and enjoyed a bit of looking out of the window. Quite relaxed, really!

In Crewe I had to change. I got out and looked for an information board. And I saw my connecting train was cancelled! But there was another train to Euston about to come in. It was delayed, it should have been gone already! I decided to take that one. But by the time I sat down it dawned on me this might actually be a local train, stopping at every tree. And it was! But I had enough time. And I also wondered if my ticket was even valid for this train. But nobody checked so I didn’t find out. I just enjoyed the touristic ride. I read some in my book.

A view from the slow train

With lots of time to spare I got to Euston. Now to get to St Pancras! It’s only a short walk but it was enough to make me feel like an utter country bumpkin. I was smiling at people! And taking pictures!

I found the Eurostar terminal but first went outside for a spot of lunch. It was December but quite pleasant! I had my quiche and a carrot and some tea. And I did some people-watching. And then I went in. They suggest you show up some 45-60 mins in advance. I checked in, had my passport checked, and my luggage scanned. Ready!

I read some more until the train was ready for boarding. I found my seat next to an uncommunicative man. That was fine! I was tired. I first dozed a bit, and then listened to some radio programs I had downloaded. Some ‘long view’ and some ‘more or less’!

Once in Amsterdam I had to change. I did scan my travel card at the wrong place and got docked €20 but that should be reversible. And then I got the train to Amersfoort.

Altogether it went fine! I will do this again. Maybe with slightly less margin in London. And maybe not on Sunday! But otherwise it’s actually quite comfortable! Goodbye flygskam, and hello tågskryt!

26 December 2019

Deciding to have the house cleaned

I’m not at home an awful lot! So if I am, I want to enjoy it. And I’m not overly keen on cleaning. Sometimes it needs to be done, though! But when I decided things were getting a bit much and asked if I could work only four days, and the answer had been no, I decided I should then use some of that money I am earning for making my leisure time more pleasant. And then I came across a local cleaning company on internet. And I figured I should have my house cleaned! And see how I like it. It is getting a bit grubby but I don't want to spend a big chunk of the limited holidays I'll have scrubbing. So I got in touch! And we have sorted out a day, time and plan. It's even good for the local economy too!

The level of cleanliness of the house

25 December 2019

Supper club

My new status as an ex-Thursdaynighter affected my work life too. David is a colleague! And we even have a mutual friend at work. Guy, the man with the charming dog! When I walked past his desk I popped by. I wanted to tell him! Wasn't keen on him cheerfully asking how my ThursdayNighter trip would have been. Or whether I had seen David that day. And that sort of things. And I think he could see I was sad as he immediately invited me to a Friday Night dinner, with him and his wife (no dogs this time) and two retired ex-colleagues. Sounded nice!

The dinner was in Kyffin, one of Bangor's vegan venues. I like they are there! I had been once with Lynda, my geographical colleague. But I rarely go out for dinner so I hadn't been back. Until now!

I bumped into Guy and Gate on the road so we walked up together. Hilary and Paul were already there. We sat down and a waitress appeared to take drink orders. It was one of our PhD students! A nice coincidence.

We got a starter of walnut-pear-vegan cheese quiche with red cabbage and rocket. And a small glass of alcohol-low mulled wine. And the mains was some nutroasty thing with roasted potatoes and sprouts and such. It was nice! In essence not very different from what Teras had fed me, but you could tell Kyffyn practices vegan food a bit more than Teras. And the dessert was 'deconstructed Christmas pudding'.

It was nice to have dinner with nice people in a nice restaurant! I was really glad Guy had invited me. I was still sad, with my brains starting to mull over unpleasant things as soon as it wasn't occupied with something else. But this was an evening full of distraction! I had tried to meet up with Guy and Kate for a while but especially Kate had been stupidly busy. Now I had managed to see them anyway! And it was nice to see Hilary and Paul! It looked like they were enjoying their pensioner lives...

24 December 2019

Goodbye aftermath

So what happened after I pressed ‘send’?

The first message came in soon and was one of support! And I got a message of someone who was rather confused by the whole situation. Well, I was still confused, too! And a message came in in which I was encouraged to stand and fight. But I said I needed to do enough of that at work and didn’t want to do too much fighting in my spare time. That was understood. And I had had a phone call. And another message of support! All these meant a lot. It’s always nice to get an uplifting message, but when you know anonymous adversaries are rallying people against you out of sight, it means even more if people let you know they care!

But that was it by the time I left the office. Five people. And guess what the demographic was. All women (yes I know, that's barely throngs, but still!) had responded! And the men who had were 1) a chap who lives far away and doesn't attend very often and 2) a bloke whose wife it was who had contacted me, but who wished me all the best through her. The mail had been sent to twelve people. I didn’t expect anything from David or Anonymous Person (whoever it was); I had only included the former so as to do everything in broad daylight. I didn’t like his sneaky tactics and refused to copy them! But this meant there still were quite some regulars who were not willing to even send a small and polite message of goodbye. That hurt. After six years? Maybe they were rather influenced by David and Co, but really, was whatever it was I stood accused of (and trialled, and found guilty, in one fell swoop) so unspeakably awful they couldn’t at least acknowledge the times before things went sour and just say bye? At least this told me I had made the right call. I clearly had to leave this lot behind!

To my relief, I later that day got another message, and two days later another one. From regulars. Both positive (although I didn't expect any negative ones). So at least a majority had shown kindness. That still left two who were outright enemies and three who had shown no sign of caring. Five out of twelve is still considerable! And I know, maybe these three are, unbeknownst to me, hiking the Kalahari and not in email contact or something and they will come out of the woodwork some day. But being faced with an anonymous enemy makes paranoid! What else is happening behind my back? I had quite felt faced with an amorphous mob that was willing to take some anonymous person's word for it that I was too despicable to join ThursdayNighter trips and too disgusting to send an email to. It hadn't done much for my sleep at night, or for my effectiveness at work. And especially the former was worrying; I had an epic trip ahead and I have a tendency to fall ill over Christmas; starting my trip weakened by lack of sleep wouldn't be great. But what to do.

I was also a bit disappointed, to be honest, that no messages came in saying anything along the lines of 'Hang on, I don't think a single individual should have the power to boot someone out of the ThursdayNighters. Especially not on the basis of an anonymous complaint!' Because well, maybe there is consensus among the non-mailers that it is absolutely terrible what I've done, but that doesn't automatically mean it was dealt with correctly. A suspected murderer will be brought to trial! Not just thrown in jail on the basis of one anonymous witness statement. As well, I think everybody else now carries David's approval so I don't think he will pull this trick again, but you never know who next might say or do something that he or Anonymous Person don't like.

I also think that the world is polarised enough as it is. If you disagree with someone, especially someone that you have got along with fine, then I think the best way to deal with that is start a dialogue. Try to make them see your point of view, be open to theirs, and then see if maybe you can each adjust so you get along better afterwards. It’s what I tried to do when the initial event took place! It was scary to tell literally everyone how hurt I had felt as it feels (and clearly is) vulnerable. But if it works you’ve brought people together! And booting people out without discussion is a guaranteed path to the opposite. Did I manage to increase harmony within the ThursdayNighters? No. But I tried! There’s no trying here. But well, that is something I will have to let go. One has to pick one's fights this one is not mine anymore.

By Saturday (the chronology of this blog is going to pots, but so be it) I felt like I was my usual self again. Being able to think of other things too, and the stone on my stomach gone. Good! Nobody benefits from me dwelling on this, least of all myself. And now I could start this new phase properly, and try to make the most of these shiny new Thursday Nights.

23 December 2019

Beautiful dawn

One day I stepped out of my door in order to get to work, and I was immediately struck by the beautiful pink sky. I was getting into my car, as there was a wind warning in force for later that day. I decided to drive the slightly longer way to work, hoping I would find some places from which to document these skies a bit better. And I did! It was stunning.

What I saw when I stepped out of the house

The view from further down the road

22 December 2019

First night as a non-ThursdayNighter

When I decided to quit the ThursdayNighters I knew I would have an evening free! I imagined myself making progress on the spare room. But things panned out otherwise! A friend got air of my free evening and said 'let's go for a drink then!' And that was a good idea. Painting leaves you too much time to think! And feeling rather ostracised and hated I could do with a friendly face. So we set off.

I had had my eye on Ty Gwyn in Betws-y-Coed; it must be a very old building, and as far as I am concerned, the older the better. My friend had wanted to try Elen's Castle in Dolwyddelan! But both turn out to not have a public bar. So that quest went well. We ended up in Trefriw! There was a nice pub there. I felt a bit bad about the amount of CO2 we had managed to emit looking for a drink but well, at least now we know and we won't try these other places again.

We had a really nice chat! I could vent my spleen, and that helped, but we also just talked about completely random things like Almodóvar movies and eighties music and early memories and blogging and southern mines and whatnot. It was just what I needed! And we decided to do it again. Maybe next time with some culture! The last time I did something cultural but not either alone or at least partially for reasons of Welsh practice (which is cool too but not quite the same) is a while ago. I suppose it must have been seeing Phill Jupitus with Marjan! So this cloud is already having silver lining! Soon maybe there'll only be lining...

21 December 2019

End of an era

It was just a regular Tuesday Night and I was in the kitchen, about to cook dinner. I saw I had an email and had a look. It was from David. It said that someone had complained to him that I had suggested on my blog that the ThursdayNighters do not welcome anyone who is not white, male and straight. And that I had referred to the awful night underground on my blog. And that he was fed up with keeping the peace and that he was no longer willing to join ThursdayNighter trips I would attend.

That came a bit out of the blue. What? Nobody had indicated at any time that they had issues with me. And no non-straight white males? Where did that come from? I know that on a typical trip I am the only person who isn't, but that's hardly the same as suggesting that if someone of some other demographic would want to join, the ThursdayNighters would say no.

I looked up the passage. I soon found it! It was the final sentence of my post about the YCC. I had found it rather refreshing to be on a trip with them and not see only straight white males around me. Yes if you really want to read that as 'I personally think the ThursdayNighters won't accept anything other than straight white males' you can, but you really have to squint. It looked like someone had made the effort of reading this in the worst possible light.

I didn't quite like it that an anonymous person had been complaining to David. Can't you just tell me to my face? It's hardly as if I have a habit of beating people up if I don't like what they say, or something. And this was the second time an anonymous person had complained about the blog via David. And the third time someone had complained altogether. Me writing about not buying a pannier rack from a fellow ThursdayNighter didn't go down well with said ThursdayNighter! But he had the guts to just tell me directly. And we made up the very next time we saw each other. And then it didn't matter anymore. But you can't make up with people if you don't know who they are. Anyway. I can't for the life of me remember any ThursdayNighter mentioning they had read my blog without clearly having read it for surveillance purposes. Never anything like 'I saw you went there or did that, how interesting!' So I was a bit sceptical about the combination of the blog and the ThursdayNighters. If people are regular readers, just because they find it interesting, then you are a bit more keen to accommodate them if they have a gripe. If you know they only read it when they're looking for the gripe, then, well, not so much.

(Hello, ThursdayNighters who are reading this too!)

And apparently, I couldn't refer to events that had happened either. On my own personal blog. Because, as he said 'it was in the past'. Excuse me? So now I am under a gagging order? And I can only write about TN-approved things? Otherwise I am no longer acceptable? Yes the situation had improved a lot since, but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter anymore. And yes perhaps the TN don't like being reminded of it, but it's not as if I am going around personally bringing it up with them all the time. Look at the size of the (completely unrelated) blog post that link was in: someone had really gone looking for it.

Anyway. So a person who didn't want me to know who he was had gone looking for something to attack me with, and had found this. And that was reason for David to boycott trips I would be on? That was a bit extreme. But well, he also said he was not willing to discuss. OK... I decided he could suit himself and told him I intended to join that week's trip. Fine if he doesn't want to come.

He also said he wanted to stay friends. That was weird! I'm so offensive he doesn't want to come underground if I'm there, but he wants to be friends? I hadn't gone into that in my first mail but the next day I told him that these two things didn't go together, and that if indeed he stood by his decision without being willing to discuss it the friendship was off. So that was it then.

As it happened, I had sent an email out earlier that day to the whole group, saying something like 'so are we back to the wet mine this week?' But no response had come. And then the next day still nothing came. This was a bit suspicious. It looked like I was being purposefully ignored. Or cancelled, as it seems to be called these days. So was there no trip on, or were they hiding its being planned from me? I had already been offered a lift for this trip, so I texted the chap and said I didn't know if there was a trip, so I didn't know if the lift would still be applicable. And then he forwarded me the last email. Which evidently hadn't been sent to me! There was a whole trail. Aha. So David had been all camping on the moral high ground suggesting he would just pull out of trips I would attend, but in reality he had already been trying to make sure I didn't even know there even WAS one before he had told me he had an issue with me. That's sneaky! And well, one normally doesn't check the address list on a group email, so nobody would notice what he was doing. Was he trying to make me not show up in such a way that nobody knew that he had orchestrated that?

Is it possible this was a mistake? Well yes of course it is, in theory. But leaving me out in spite of an explicit reminder on the day he said he wanted me out anyway does not reek of an accident.

I was having second thoughts about just showing up and causing David to return home. If I wanted to keep coming to trips I would not only be triggering David's absence, but I now knew I would have to fight to remain in the loop! He was clearly willing to use dirty tactics. And if I had buckets of allies, someone would have answered my mail. If I had buckets of allies, the initial incident would not have happened! So I did not have any illusions about the amount of support I would get. And then there was the unidentified person. Who knew what he would get up to. I figured the vigilance needed to even receive trip information would be exhausting. And then showing up, and the awkwardness of David storming off in a huff! And then the other ThursdayNighters, who might very well prefer David, and the tense silence I could imagine would follow. And the question of whether the anonymous person would be there. I figured I would not feel awfully welcome. And I can do without that.

I decided the time had come to pull out. It's not as if there have been no tensions before! And I had already started to wonder if I should get myself a hobby that involved more like-minded spirits. This might have been the universe telling me I needed to hurry up with that. Maybe the initial night should have been enough of a hint, and I am a bit slow on the uptake.

Even though maybe it was best for me to quit anyway, it was all rather unpleasant! The behind-the-back work. The complete and utter denial of dialogue. And as well, I had tried to make the TN a better place for women, and now I had made it worse. I'm not keen to imagine what would happen if a new, unsuspecting woman would call out misogyny on some future trip. Not that I should be all too surprised about it panning out like this. If you call out misogyny you tend to be the one paying the price! Not the misogynist. But I still don't regret I spoke out. It's a question of principle! And as well, I am rewarding David and his anonymous accomplice for their divisiveness. But do I really want to spend an evening a week feeling thoroughly unwelcome, only to make sure divisiveness doesn't pay? No.

I also clearly remembered saying to Phil, after having sent out my email to the TN explaining I had felt so ostracised during the aforementioned awful trip, that I had now shown my weakness. If anyone would want to take advantage of that and muscle me out of the club* then they could! Phil didn't think anyone would; that's not how the TN roll. But here we are. Just two months later and it looks like someone did just that!

So how to pull out? Just say 'I'm quitting' and not explain? Or say why I quit? This wasn't so easy! I didn't want to not explain at all. Either you get a barrage of messages saying 'what happened' and you end up explaining again and again; or you get none, and then you know the only narrative out there is David's. I'm not even sure what that is. But it's difficult not to sound aggressive and petulant if you explain why you pull out. And I had replied to the email stream that had been forwarded to me, so the news that David didn't want me on trips anymore, and had tried to block me from knowing about it, was out. Except that, I suppose, to those not knowing what happened before, it looked like I had been drawing really extreme conclusions from David not having included me in the list. Might as well provide a brief explanation. Otherwise my message with 'goodbye, I hereby withdraw' would be a bit weird. Oh well! It was not as if I had an awful lot to lose.

A bit later I had also been pondering if I should see if I could get a farewell trip together. For the people who would be sad to see me go! There should at least be a few. And for me to give all this a happy ending. So I combined it! Sent out my goodbye mail, with brief explanation, and the question who would be up for a farewell trip. Was it perfect? No. Did I want to spend hours on trying to get it right and still not get it right? No. Did I have a lot to lose? No. I hit 'send'. That was it. Almost six years abruptly coming to an end! And I'll see if that trip happens!

*yes I know it's not a club, but what to call it?

19 December 2019

Birthday walk

This year my birthday would fall on a Saturday! And I don't care an awful lot about birthdays but I figured this would be a good year to make a bit of an effort. Last year I didn't do anything and the year before my birthday had been on a Thursday, so that was fully booked anyway. But this year I thought maybe I could convince my new walking mate Kate to go for a walk! Whatever the weather. And she was up for it! Great!

When the weather forecast was clear I came up with a plan. I had seen an incline in Drws y Coed many times, but never walked it. It goes to the ridge of Mynydd Mawr and from there you can go to the top, and then either back down the ridge, or down on the other side and then back to Rhyd Ddu through some woodland. We'd see what would tickle our fancy!

We met up just outside Rhyd Ddu. From there we dropped one car in Drws y Coed. And we walked up! It was pretty and civilised. The terrain that is; the wind was strong. And we walked to the ridge. There we saw not only the path going further up that we had seen on the map, but also one going down on the other side, and one following the contours on the Drws y Coed side. That looked interesting! We decided to have a look.

The incline

View towards Beddgelert

The alluring path!

The path went straight over the scree slope! That was cool. And then it seemed to bend right, straight up the hill. And it didn't seem to go straight on. We gave it a go! And the vertical bit went fine. But we were scared of what we would find at the edge. We could hear the wind howling like nothing on earth! But well, one way to find out how bad it was. But not yet. We first had a drink and Welsh cakes. We had both brought them to celebrate my birthday! A funny coincidence.

After the Welsh cakes we went up. And when we hit a ridge (not even the final one!) we could not stand up. The wind was so strong! We knew we had to abandon this attempt. But come back some other day with less wind! So we scrambled back down and went back to the ridge.

Onto the scree! Pic by Kate

Steep! Pic by Kate

Kate on the slope

Me on a pointy rock. Pic by Kate

Once on the ridge we went up. I expected to be blown off my feet any moment but it didn't happen. We calmly strolled up! All the way to the top! And there we sat in the wind shelter and had lunch. And we decided to go back the way we came. It was after 2PM and the sun would set at 4! No use to stagger through woodlands in the dark.

We strolled back down. Lower on the hill the path vanished a bit but that was OK. We got to the road and decided to go to the pub for a hot chocolate! That was nice. And then we went back to Kate's car. I think this was my best birthday in many years! Hurray! And now it was time to go home, buy some food, and then cook dinner. And then light a fire! All good!

The path (or absence thereof) along the treeline on the ridge. And a snowy Snowdon in the background.

Llyn y Dywarchen

18 December 2019

Aditnow Christmas dinner

This year I hadn't been so sure if I wanted to attend the dinner! I am not keen on the sort of food you typically get this time of year. And this restaurant isn’t famous for its vegetarian options. And I don't like eating that late. But I figured I should show my good intentions. And as well, the dinner always hosts several significant others I don’t see very often. Or pretty much not at all!

We would go to the pub first. Not the noisy student-frequented pubs this time, but a much quieter pub down by the pier: the Tap & Spile. We had sought solace there before! I was the first to get there. I sat down with a pint and my newspaper until the others arrived.

Slowly the others appeared. In spite of the awful awful election results that had come out that day we had a nice catch-up. And I got to meet new significant others And then it was time to go to the restaurant; Teras, in the same building the graduation earlier that day had been in. And there we sat down. I was sitting on a corner, surrounded by Miles, Simon and Briony; it's always good to see Miles, Briony hasn't come with us for years, and Simon doesn't appear very often either. It was nice to catch up! I sometimes hear the latest gossip about their house (they are doing a lot of work on it) via Phil but it's nice to hear it from the horse's mouth for a change.

Phil went around wearing a 'Bah humbug' hat and with a bag of presents. I got a puzzle loo roll! That will keep me busy. Simon and Briony got a frog game and a snowmankini (yes really). Miles got a book with management bollocks. That was such a lucky pick! He actually is a manager in a way.

After the dessert I popped to the other side of the table to socialise there too for a bit. And then I joined a small group of women discussion doing houses up. I was clearly the one who had done/was doing the least amount of work but still! And I made a plan with Briony that I'll pop by and see what they are getting up to, house-wise. I look forward to it! Simon handed out calendars and then it was time to go. And I was home at about 23:15, and I had had three alcoholic beverages. A wild night! By my standards. And it will have a follow-up!

Me and my puzzle loo roll

16 December 2019

Another winter graduation

My first graduation ceremony was a winter one! They are not the standard ones. Most students do their last exams in May and then graduate in summer, but MSc students work all through summer too. And then they can graduate in December rather than having to wait until the next summer! And, of course, there might be BSc students who were allowed to submit things late for e.g. medical reasons; if these extensions are too long they can't graduate in summer either. And we have a School of Health Sciences that seems to work on a different time scale from the rest of the university. And PhD students start and finish at fairly random times in the year. So plenty of reasons for winter graduation!

My first graduation had been a winter one. And I had been to a summer episode once too. I was becoming a regular! And the ceremony started at 11 so I didn't bother to go to Menai Bridge first. I would have to pick up the gown well in advance so I went straight to Main Arts from home. I thought I'd pick up the gown, and then read an article in the Council room (where we always meet before the ceremony) until it was time. So I went to the gowns room. I gave my name to a lady who got me a fetching red specimen. She looked at the concomitant hat and said 'ooh I have to check this, it looks very large'. I confirmed that would be on purpose; I need a really large hat. It fit like a glove! The gown gave some trouble; the hood didn't have velcro to keep it in place. If they're not fixed at the front they garrotte you! It did have a loop but the gown didn't have a button to attach it to. And they were designed, of course, on men, who pretty much always wear a buttoned shirt underneath their gown, so they always have something to loop around. But I was in a dress! The lady somewhat flusteredly asked me if I was wearing a bra. I was. She suggested the give me a safety pin so I could fix the hood to that. And I did! Strange times. It did work though.

I then went up to the Council Room but it was locked! I found a chair elsewhere. And then I heard my colleagues Mattias and Ian. We larked about a bit together until someone opened the room. The we larked a bit more. And compared gowns. I always get a different one; as a Dutch academic there is no specific gown I should wear, so I get whatever's left over. And the same holds for Swedes; Mattias, who is one, also always got a surprise gown. My previous gowns had been blue but this time I got a red one.

After a while we lined up, walked in and sat down. The ceremony began. And first the nursing BSc's were called. There were many of them! I think we were stuck on 'Jones' for half an hour. It looks like they recruit locally. But we got through them and finally our BSc's were called. Quite a few! And a bunch of MSc's. But no PhDs this time.

After the ceremony we were ushered outside. It was cold and gusty! I was glad to be wearing a floppy hat; you can pull them over your ears, and then you stay warm and it doesn't blow off. Those in mortar boards were not so lucky. We waited for the SOS students to come out to congratulate them. They were a nice bunch! I had taught many in my climate module. We also took some pics! Then we went back in to give the gowns back. There was a reception afterwards in the management centre. There we could have more of a chat! And could find out how the students liked their new jobs. It sounded good!

I think next summer we will have a big harvest of PhD students! With all those who left and who we miss. It will be nice to see them again!

Me in the red gown
Mattias and some new MSc's. And a rubber duckie (don't ask)

15 December 2019

Standing around in cold water

When we went to see this mine for the first time we thought there would be little to it! But we could go back for the second time. We had put some ladders into a winze and now would be bringing even more ladders to bring us even higher. We gathered at the usual spot; Edwyn had brought a pair of ladders. And soon we had them at the bottom of the winze. Edwyn scampered up and we lifted the ladders up to him. And then we watched him try to shimmy them into position. And he managed! And got into a next level. I followed him to the top of the first set of ladders. The level he now was in was dead! It only went some two, three meters. And we could see something around the corner but how to get there? I was wondering if we could bolt a traverse. I had brought bolts and David had a drill.

Edwyn didn't think we could do it, but David wasn't having that. He scampered up, two newish blokes in tow. And then they shouted down they wanted to pull the original set of ladders up. They would need our help bringing them back down again! So we received the emphasised request to not scoot off to the pub. And I suppose it wasn't an empty request! The bottom of the winze was in knee deep water, and to get to it you had to thigh deep water. And it's cold! And just walking through it is OK but of you stand in it for too long you really get cold. After a while those below decided to find a dry spot to sit down. We made sure to still be within earshot.

 Edwyn faffing with ladders, seen from below

Then a period followed of me sitting down, almost immediately followed by shouts of 'Margot!' coming from the winze. They wanted David's bag. They wanted something that should have been in David's bag but wasn't. And then it got weirder. They wanted to know who had made my bolts. What sort of question is that? They had the bolts in their hands. Any information they wanted to know about it would be documented in the bolts themselves. What did I have to add to this? By then of the four of us below, two had left as they were too cold. It was just me and Chris now. I asked if Chris was willing to do the honneurs next time they called. And he did! And by then they announced their return. I had a nice chat with Chris while the others rounded off their recce.

It took them a while to all come down, especially Edwyn who was taking pictures. They had made it around the corner, using the two ladders! And they had got to a level they hadn't yet fully explored. I was keen to go and have a look for myself! But not now. I was cold and fed up. So we went out! I don't really know how they got down given that David's drill bits weren't big enough for my bolts but well, they clearly found a way. Maybe next week we would get back? A fourth time for a mine we didn't expect much of!

 The construction they managed to produce. Pic by Edwyn

14 December 2019

New module: how did it go?

My Palaeoceanography module, which I had inherited from James, would cease to be. With James, we still had a micropalaeontology research group. Now it's only me! And then it seems a bit pointless to teach them a very detailed palaeoceanography module. If it inspires students and they want to do a MSc in it we have to disappoint them; we just don't have the facilities. So we set out to change the module. And we would go applied!

What we now would do was have five external people give a guest lecture. They could pick the topic themselves, as long as it was applied marine geology! And we made sure we would tackle all topics the students would need to understand before they would be able to follow the guest lectures. Jaco spoke of Milankovitch cycles. I spoke of all the things you do with sediment cores: stable isotope analysis, palaeothermometry, dating, X-ray diffraction. And we had a third internal lecturer: Martin, who is into sediment transport and that sort of stuff. And then we were ready for the guests!

We had quite a variety. It started with a bloke who is a guest lecturer with us: that was easy, he was around anyway. And he talked about carbonates, and everything you can store in them (hydrocarbons, water, CO2) and how the carbonate genesis affects to what extent you can get all that in there and then out again. Or not out, in the case of CO2.

Then we had Dick, my old PhD supervisor. His talk initially went terribly  wrong! We couldn't get the technicalities working. But he did a retry and then it worked. Hurray! He is worried about gas hydrates in offshore sediments, and whether they come out when the climate warms, creating runaway warming. And he had been scouring millions of years worth of sediments to answer that question and unfortunately, the answer is 'yes'. Oh dear!

We also had a lady from Liverpool who talked about clay coatings in reservoirs (again, reservoirs for whatever really: hydrocarbons, water, CO2) and how they affect reservoir quality.

Then we had a chap who talked about pretty much everything. Submarine fans, basin infill, reconstructing earthquakes from the sedimentary record, storm surges, walruses, and whatnot.

The last one was a Southampton bloke who spoke mainly of geohazards and how to try to predict and avoid them. He spent quite some time on submarine cables, and it's easy to see why: communication is very important these days and a lot of it travels through submarine cables. If you sever them there will be lots of people in a lot of trouble! And it's not as if it can't happen; we already had stuff like that happen in the late 1920s with telegraph cables! And there are many more cables around now. And counties like Mauritania have already found out what it's like if you get cut off for a bit. I don't think they liked it.

The students were asked to be inspired by the guest lectures and write a 10 minute lecture themselves. They would just pick out an aspect of one of the lectures and delved a bit deeper. We ended up with lots of marine renewables, but we also had mud volcanoes, ocean acidification, the best way of measuring clay composition in a rock, palaeolimnology (a bit on the edge of the topic!) and whatnot. Of course there was quite some variation in the quality of the talks (there always is) but altogether it was very interesting!

To finish it all off we did a revision session, on request of one of the students. Normally, the students have old exams to practice on, but this is a new module so there are none. So now they could ask stuff! And as usual, there was a lot of sitting around hoping that someone else would say something. And questions about the exam format; as good as none about the material. It often goes that way. But I think we gave some useful pointers.

Now the only things still to come are the exam, and the module evaluation. The first thing happens in January, and the other has started. The students are asked to fill out an online form about what they thought of the module. Anonymously! And it's very informative but it's also flawed; it's hard to convince the students to spend time on this, maybe because it's not them who benefit from it anyway. So the risk always is that you can only motivate those students who have an axe to grind! So it can be a bit disheartening. And because of the small sample size you sometimes find yourself changing something because of the module evaluations, only to get slated in next year's module evaluation, because you happen to have polled some students with quite different opinions from last year's. Oh well! We try our best. But I think the module is a stayer!

13 December 2019

First time ever: Christmas decorations

I'm always in the Netherlands over Christmas! And I don't want to lug big trees around when I know I will have to move house again soon. So I never put up Christmas decorations. Not that I had any. Why would I?

Then I bought a house. And it wasn't just a house; there were things in it. Such as: a fruit bowl, a sander, a cafetiere, a machete, a pair of binoculars, and Christmas decorations. And I'm not going anywhere! So now I could have a go at this Christmas malarkey. The house even came with a fir! Rose, the previous owner, had had lots of potted plants in front of the house, to make it look good. One of them was a fir. I could perhaps move that one inside over the Christmas period? But the plants had got a bit neglected. And then we had a drought in my first summer. That made things a lot worse! Among other things, it killed the fir. So much for my Christmas plans. And the first winter the house was still a building site, so where would I put a tree, anyway?

This year I have a living room. And it's great! So I gave decorating it another thought. And figured I could kill two birds with one stone; I would not buy a typical Christmas tree, but just a nice big shrub that could function as such, and then in spring move outside and make the outside of the house look good. So a trip to the garden centre was in order!

So far it all works. I have a plant, in lives in the living room, and it now has lights in it (it's after Sinterklaas so it's OK!). The plant is too small to host all the lights so the book cupboard gets the rest. And I adorned my antler too! I'm feeling all Christmassy!


12 December 2019

More painting

I had plastered my wall two weeks ago and the wall wasn't painted yet! Not fully, anyway. The week after I had only managed one coat. It needs two! And the woodwork hadn't had any paint at all (except the cupboard door). But then another weekend appeared. And I gave that wall a second coat! And when that was on, I could take off the masking tape that protected the woodwork. Next step: said woodwork! I think the frame of the cupboard needs a base coat first. But the first thing I did was the hatch to the loft. I want that to be sorted before it gets even colder! Painting it, after all, is best done when it's not in position, and that means a big hole in the insulation. I will need several weekends more to finish this, but some progress has again been made!

Second coat on! And masking tape removed. 

The hatch is painted

11 December 2019

To mid Wales with the YCC

I had sent my lamp back to John, who had made it. He's a Yorkshireman I met through the NYMCC, the sort of brother club of the York Caving Club, of which I was a member. And then soon after he texted me; would I be in the hut near Croesor that weekend? I didn't expect that! And then I realised the YCC/NYMCC always come to North Wales in early December. I had just not been a member of the club anymore so I hadn't been reminded of it. And in early December I tend to be dragging myself in despair to the end of term! But this year I had managed to keep stuff reasonable so I decided I could come visit them. What would they do? John mentioned Hen Gloddfa; I had never even heard of it.

I wondered if I should show up on Friday or Saturday. Or wait until contact had been established! The disadvantage of Friday would be that I would drive in (about 45 minutes), have a chat while everybody else would be getting drunk, and then drive back again. Maybe not such a good idea. Wait until contact had been established? I tried that some years ago and that lead to me not seeing them at all. So maybe just show up on Saturday! I did try to coordinate things a bit; I asked John what the Yorkies would be doing when, but he said they would only decide once there. So I asked him to keep me in the loop, did my usual Friday evening things, and went to bed. But no message in the morning! So after some pootling I decided to just go there with anything I might need in the boot of my car. I drove down, and got there some quarter to ten. And the door was closed but I could see a hand holding a cup of, perhaps, coffee, through a gap in the curtains. There were people awake! So I knocked. And John opened. And there were some unknown faces inside but also several people I had been underground with before. There was Laura who had already been a fixture of the YCC when I started. And David with whom I had been on a rather small trip. And there was Philip, who I had only seen on my very first trip with the YCC! And a shape on the sofa; someone was hungover. Some had been boozing until five! I had been in bed by half past ten...

We would indeed go to Hen Gloddfa, in the Corris area. I had driven past many times (on my way to, or back from, Laugharne), but I had never stopped. Now I would! And I ended up leading the way. I could find Corris Uchaf but from there I didn't remember precisely enough. I knew there was a sharp turn coming up! I saw one, which looked quiet, so I just pulled in. I could look on the map there! But one bloke knew the way so just said 'follow me' and that's what we did. And we parked up at a spot from which you could see slate tips rise up in all directions! The trip had been sold to me as a walk-in, and that walking gear would be advised. I hadn't prepared for that! But I could just go in the clothes I was wearing. I just put on wellies.

 Parked up

We walked up and found an entrance. But it looked very wet! I was in the only trousers I had with me. Tegs, the Welsh-speaking lady of the club, was wearing her normal clothes too and thought she might want to change. We decided to go back! And then her bloke Jerry followed. We quickly changed into caving suits and returned. The others were just coming out! It didn't go. We walked on. And then up. And we found little. In the end, Tegs found a hole. But by then, four others had scooted off in another direction and we had to wait for them to show them where the hole was. But by the time the others appeared (who hadn't found any other entrances) the first people were already coming out of the hole. Oh well! We went in too. We saw some impressive holes! I knew that in this area, the lodes were vertical, so the chambers were immensely high, but now I saw it for myself.

Aberllefenni on the other side of the valley

Scampering up the spoil heap, looking for entrances

The hole Tegs found 

We didn't find anything else. So we went back down! And then decided to go back to the lay-by I had pulled up in; there was another mine there. All the other changed but I didn't. Why would I, when we would do another mine? And my bum wasn't all too dirty so I just drove in all my kit. Driving in steel-toed boots half full of water isn't all that, but I was immediately ready for this next venture. 

We walked up the hill. Soon we found a pit. It had some entrances that didn't go anywhere. And then someone spotted a cable on a slightly higher level! We went there. That went! But the people up front said it was too wet. Everybody else had taken their boots off, after all! But I was wet anyway so I went in; I found that Ian (wet anyway as well; he had never put on his caving suit) and Rachel (had changed into her walking gear but had managed to keep her socks dry) were ahead of me. We had a scamper! And we saw it went and went. Surely the others wanted to know that! We went back to tell them. And most did come in then. If Rachel could keep her feet dry, surely the others could too! 

View from the second mine

We went back to where we had turned back and went further down. And further down. A lot of this had steel hand lines, and some pitched had ladders or knotted ropes or the likes! Someone must be using this place commercially.

At some point I was coming past two sets of junctions in a row and figured there must be a lot here. But it was already half past four! And the others had a table booking at seven. And they probably wanted a shower before going for dinner. And we were easily an hour's drive away. So should we keep exploring? And by then it was only me and Ian. We found John back at the second rope from there, and the others at the turning-back point. We went out. And at the cars we found several of the folks who had decided against going in. They had tried to go to a pub! But it turned out to have been a mile up the road, and they had walked down the road.

I now wanted to get out of these wet wellies. So I did! And while I was changing, the other cars left. They hadn't realised I wouldn't come back with them to the hut! Or to the pub of dinner. I wanted to go home. But it was OK! I'm not good with goodbyes anyway. I just drove back. Took me 1.5 hours! And I found a message from Tegs who said goodbye by proxy. And then I cooked my dinner.

That night I had a small look at where we had been; it turned out that the hillside we had started on had two mines, and I wasn't sure to which one the hole we had found belonged to. It could be Hen Gloddfa; it could be Ceunant Ddu. And I got the impression from Aditnow that our attempt at getting in without SRT was misguided. It seems to take a long pitch, and then you see all the treasures! And the second mine was Gaerwen. We probably didn't scratch the surface of that one either.

It had been a bit of a daft day. I don't normally drive that far to do such minimal exploring! But I was mainly in it for the social aspect. And that was good! I should try to remember on time next year that they are coming, and then use my local contacts to find out more about the venues! And try to be so relaxed I feel free again to come with them! Which is hardly something I can take for granted. But it's nice to keep this sort of contact going! And after my recent confrontation with the ThursdayNighters, I was extra glad to be out on a trip with a caving club in which being white may still have been a given, but in which being straight and male most certainly isn't!

10 December 2019

Leech in boot?

We had done a rather wet trip underground. And that leads to wet boots. It's nice to get them dry again for the next trip! So, quite a while later (bad idea), I took the insoles out to make the drying process go quicker. And I found a small creature on my sole! I first thought it was a slug. The boots were in the conservatory and that does host its fair share of slugs. But the creature was too sleek, too black, too shiny. I had another look and I wonder if it was a leech! I did not do any details taxonomic investigation; instead I evicted the invader. But I think it was one! And I hadn't seen one before in Wales...

09 December 2019

Welsh session

In autumn, I registered for another Welsh qualification. And I had a meeting with Siân, the woman in charge. She also gave me an old exam paper so I could practice. And I fully intended to do that paper! And prepare my presentation! But then life happened and I never got around to it. And sometimes I got emails from Siân mentioning practice sessions but these were never compatible with my teaching commitments. But then I got one about a day so later in term that I didn't have any teaching! So I went. I thought it would be all day.

It was very windy so I drove in. And I found the room. Only Siân was in it! But later a lady joined us: Sioned. As the name suggests, she was actually Welsh. And she was a native speaker! Blimey I am in that league now.

Siân started with a general introduction to the exam, and the resources we were allowed to use for it. Most of that I knew, but she showed us some very nifty tricks you can do with a Word add-in! Taht will come in handy. I struggled a bit to keep up though; I didn't manage to log int the qualification website, and I could get the dictionary app or the spell-check app on my screen. I wondered if it had something to do with me having two screens in my office; maybe this computer was showing these windows on the second screen I here didn't have. So I ended up Googling how to make your computer not do that! And I couldn't read the screen from where I was sitting. Oh well. I still had half my brain on the session! And I did manage to sort out the screen issue.

When we got to the actual exam we started at the start: doing a task in which we had to find mistakes in a Welsh text. I find that very difficult! There are so many sneaky traps in this language. Sioned found it easier. And then time was pretty much up. The other sessions would start at two! So I had time to go to the office and do some 'normal' work. And then come back.

When I came back Sioned was there again. And then another person appeared: a chap called Dylan. Another native speaker! And now we would do the translation, and free writing. We didn't have time for the actual tasks, but Siân talked us through what the marking criteria were, and gave us some tips for translating. She also showed us some examples. And then we did some free writing; the same sort of approach. We were encouraged to finish the work and send it to Siân for feedback. I have two sets now I should send her! But we cannot send her unlimited work. But I can ask her later if I can send her both old exam papers!

It took a bit bite out of my day, but I am glad I went. I really hadn't done enough practice recently! And I still hope I'll pass. We'll see in summer!

08 December 2019

Taking Ed into slate

For a while, there was quite an SOS presence in the ThursdayNighters! We had not only David and me, and sometimes Kate, but also Ed. He was a PhD student on the project I had done my postdoc in. But he had finished, and got himself a job in Southampton. So he was gone! But the thing about PhDs is that they have to come back for their viva's. And this week, Ed was back! I didn't see him before the viva as I had student presentations, and I didn't see him straight afterwards for the same reason. But I caught him when he came out of the pub where he had had a celebratory drink! But later we would take him underground. Would he have arranged it so that he would have the viva on a Thursday? Not unthinkable!

When he had mailed he would be coming with us, and wanted a slate trip, Phil suggested Diffwys. It would be a trip involving an abseil and a boat trip (as not everyone wants to swim). Phil had a boat. Simon said he had one too. And we would need a rope! And Phil suggested the bolts were not very good anymore and might need replacing. So it would be a bit elaborate but it would be spectacular enough! But then the weather forecast went awful and people started having doubts. And then Simon pulled out. And we weren't sure anymore of Phil. Hm! Oh well, there are more mines in the Blaenau area.

I packed all my neoprene; this trip is notorious for the boats prematurely deflating, and I figured there should at least be one person who would be dressed for the water temperature. And I hitched a ride with David. He changed into his caving suit at my place and I changed into the clothes I intended to walk up in. No use donning the wetsuit at the bottom of the hill! And through the torrential rain we drove to Blaenau. And by then we knew Phil would be late! So no boat. When we got there, Phil seemed to be out altogether. We rallied the troops and went to Wrysgan instead. You can't do that trip with a skinny bloke who doesn't own a wetsuit if you have no boat! And to my relief, Ed was relieved at not having to lug a rubber boat up the hill in atrocious weather, rather then being disappointed at not visiting a new (and exciting!) mine.

We chose Wrysgan as it's nearby, it's not a big slog from the parking lot, and Ed hadn't done our rather new through trip yet. And there were only five of us! Iain and Ed (who had come for the first time the week before) were with us too. We walked up past the heavily swollen river. And we got in! The pitch at the end of the through trip is readily rigged but Ed and I decided to go have a look if all looked well; we didn't want to end up at the pitch only to notice that someone had nicked the rope and we'd have to come back the way we had come. Ad the rope was still there! We also noticed a lot of water coming down...

We made out way up. We had a nice pootle. And not too high above the pitch we ate our sandwiches. And then we got to the Wormhole. It had a waterfall going through it! Not very surprising, really. But well, we'd have to get through. I had decided to not put on my caving suit; I was wearing my caving waterproofs for walk-in trips. So I had a hood! I put it up, climbed down, and plunged through. It wasn't too bad. Then I waited for the next person to come through. I could maybe take a picture! And after what seemed forever Ed appeared. And I managed a picture! And when he was down I decided to get out of the way and I went to the pitch, and descended.

Ed comes through the Wormhole

The others appeared too. We took our SRT kit off and walked out. It was still quite windy but not overly wet! And Ed had had a good trip. That's important! And he'll be back in summer for his graduation ceremony!

07 December 2019

Last lecture done!

Once term starts, it keeps running. There is a week of no lectures in there, but that tends to be coincident or adjacent to the Swamphike, so I do get a break then, but as soon as I am back from the hike I have to hit the ground running again to catch up. But now the end of term is in sight! I've given all my 'classic' lectures! The only contact hours left now are a revision session, and (hopefully) presenting my MSc projects to the new MSc students. And there's still a lot of marking but I can see the end! It's great!

06 December 2019

Getting the encyclopaedia!

I was ready for it in summer! But I had to wait until winter. I had been promised a rather bulky encyclopaedia of foraminifera by our commercial partner. And they seemed to have had to jump through quite some hoops to actually be able to hand it over!

It was November when they contacted me again to say it was sorted. Could I come get it? And I could! We have school vehicles one can book. The van would easily be big enough to move that thing around. But then they suddenly realised they had a van themselves. And they offered to bring it!

I cancelled my van booking and asked some friendly people to help me lug. And then on Tuesday morning they phoned. They were here! And it turned out they had parked up at the Marine Centre Wales rather than Craig Mair (where my office is) but that was quickly sorted. I had got the trolley ready at the lift!

You would think the lift would get the trolley to the correct floor, right? Well think again. For some reason we have a lift that goes one floor up, and if you want to go higher you have to get through a double set of fire doors and then take the other elevator. Why? The lower lift looks retrofitted, but would they really have designed a building that is only accessible by stairs? Did they not think of either wheelchair users or, say, people lugging furniture around? Or trolleys full of microscopes and samples and whatnot? Anyway; I took the first trolley up and unloaded it on the first floor. We could do the rest later! Then Brian took a load. And was gone forever. He had taken it all the way to my office! Then we could do the last batch. I started unpacking while the others retrieved the boxes from the first floor.

The boxes weren't labelled so I didn't now in what order they came! But I sorted it. And I soon realised I had way too much shelf space! I could fit most in, and on top of, extant furniture. I'm chuffed! I now have so much reference material. And my office smells of very old books! Foram research, here I come!

Old books!

Old forams!