30 June 2019

Prince Madog Cruise

After our trip offshore to take samples for our MSc project had been cancelled twice, we were finally confirmed to go. The ship was supposed to sail at about 6AM so I opted for boarding the night before. I knew I wouldn’t sleep much if I knew I would have to get up at stupid o’clock to get to the pier on time! I parked up and walked down; it all looked quiet. Generally you have to sign in in some way or another but now I just walked on and found my cabin. I was lucky; I had one for myself! This was the perk that came from being the only female on board. A bit silly that in 2019 you still get that kind of situation; 16 people on board and only one female. I was also one of only two vegetarians on board. (Yes I know, I am better described as a flexitarian, but I figured that a) it would be best to avoid confusion and b) it would be good for me to train my properly veggie muscle for a bit.) I also made my bed. And I had a quick look around. Where was what?

My hut

The Madog still at the pier

When I was done it was still early, and it was lovely outside, so I sat on a bench for a bit, reading a book. I did bump into my first people; Colin the chef, and Hubert the second engineer. I didn’t see a scientist at all that day! And I went to bed quite early. The hut was hot already so I kept a ventilator on all night.

The next morning I was woken by knocking. The cruise leader, Tim, checked I was on board. I was! And a bit later I got up, had a shower, and went to the deck. There it was already brimming with scientists. All of them except Joe, my student! And the first spanners in the works showed; it was too misty to have left yet (not enough radar on board) and a winch wasn’t working. But the first problem solved itself, and the technicians solved the other. We were ready to go!

Repairing the winch

Before anything else, Joe and I went through the safety briefing as we hadn’t sailed on the Madog before. Then it was time for breakfast. It was cooked! Not ideal, but I’ll manage for a few days. Then there was a fire drill and then I had some time to do some work in my cabin.

The cruise started with some geophysics around a wreck. This meant little to me. Things would get exciting for Joe and me when they started taking grab samples. This wreck wasn’t one of ours, in the original plan, but science tends to mean you need to constantly adapt and we decided we needed to get a bit of these samples. And as it was in the afternoon when that started, and Joe had been put in the night shift, it was me who started the actual work. And once it started it didn’t stop for a while!

Bringing a Shipek grab on board

In a team of three we were taking grab samples; they were for Irinios, a PhD student, and Tim the cruise leader (I’ll call him Tim CL from now on; the night shift had a Tim in it too) and me helped him out. And grabbing is a rather fast process. Water depth is only ~40 around the wreck, and getting the sample out takes seconds. And Irinios wanted four sub-samples per grab sample. So when a grab came up we needed to have five bags labelled up (including the time the actual grab touched the sea floor), and four additional labels; the labels go in the four small bags for in case the labelling on the outside rubs off, and then the four bags go into the bigger bag. And the whole thing then goes into a bucket to await delivery to a lab. And sometimes these grabs happened only two minutes apart! We were labelling like the clappers. And fairly often the grab sampler jammed, or it only got enough sediment for one or two bags, and then we needed to relabel them for a next sample, etc. It was hectic! And sometimes we found such cool stuff in the samples we wanted to take pictures. We even once caught a fish! It was a bit startled by the experience but seemed unhurt. We threw it back and I hope it lives happily ever after. When we found anything alive and not attached to the sediment we threw it back. Barnacles were doomed, though; Irinios wants to take grain size measurements, and pebbles are a part of that, so any barnacle living on a pebble went into the sampling bag. Poor sods! But we threw loads of crabs overboard (including a cool hermit crab, but mainly long-clawed porcelain crabs), and a brittle star, and various worms, and a small anemone. And an amazing colony of bryozoans was allowed to keep its pebbles.

A baby long-clawed porcelain crab

Sunset over a winch

Seaweed I first thought, but no! Bryozoans!

A scorpionfish in the grab

I also took a few subsamples for Joe. Maybe this wreck site was promising! If there was enough material and the sample was unlike what I already had I took some. I had five in the end.
We had done some 58 grab samples when it drew towards midnight. The end of our shifts! We were looking forward to that. Irinios would stay on to finish the grab sampling; there were only some three stations to go. Tim and I would go to bed. Joe would have to help Irinios as Tim was setting up his own kit for the next part of the cruise.

I slept OK and got up at 8. I checked out what was happening on deck. The taking video footage of worm reefs (yes they exist), was going well. Joe had checked the samples I had taken for him; they didn’t look promising. Too bad but at least we now know! And by then breakfast was over but I was actually quite happy to have some Weetabix and coffee with my Monday newspaper on my own. I’m not overly fond of cooked breakfasts!

The Wednesday was very quiet for me. I had some time before lunch, which I mainly spent working in the cabin again, and paradoxically I worked less hard when my shift started. We were mainly doing geophysics and camera work, and basically while your equipment is running you don’t need to do anything. So I spend a lot of the time reading my book near the back deck, and occasionally snapping into action when I was needed to either lower the camera frame overboard, or to haul it back in. But it was a slightly frustrating day. Losing an entire working day because once in a while you do some stuff that the men seem to be very reluctant to let you do in the first place (women and big machinery! Women and physical work!) is not very rewarding. At least I finished my book.

Holyhead mountain from the sea

The camera set-up on deck and South Stack in the background. On the left the unused boxcore

On Thursday we should have been coring, but the wind had picked up. The captain wasn’t having any use of machinery! So it was yet another quiet day. I put my laptop in a lab and did some work. The biggest excitement of the day came from the chief engineer declaring the toilet between my hut and that of Irinios and Joe to be broken. We would have to use different ones!

And I went to bed early; there was still a chance there would be coring on the Friday morning. So I had to make sure to be up and about at 5AM! And that’s best done by not going to bed after midnight. I was in bed by half past eight.

When I woke up at 3 because I had to go to the loo I found a note by Tim, having been shoved under the door; it said the decision would be taken at ~7, not 5. So I changed my alarm and went back to bed. And when I woke up for real I could immediately feel the situation had only got worse. The ship was rocking like a rodeo horse! So I went up but I already knew what was coming. And indeed; the conditions were, and were expected to stay, too bad for sampling of any kind. No mud for us! I was a bit disappointed but I know this is how it works on a ship. The weather is the boss! At least I was glad to see I didn't get seasick. I suppose the Madog is big enough to make it OK! I wouldn't want to face this kind of weather on the Macoma...

In the greater scheme of things, not very large waves. But too large for sampling! Point Lynas in the background. 

We finished a geophysical survey near Point Lynas and then we set sail for home. No reason to be out at sea if you can’t do anything! And we started discussing if we could get Joe on the next cruise. He will still need samples! But if he can, he will have to go alone. I can’t afford another week away from the office. And he is a MSc student; he should be able to stand on his own two feet!

29 June 2019

Last fern gone!

I had spent several weekends fighting ferns! But I had visited Phil, and he had said he would like another fern. I had popped down to help him with bringing loads of rubble to the recycling centre as he had done his back in. And I said I'd try to dig it out and bring it over!

The next day I got my shovel out and gave it a go. And it came out! Great! I plonked it in a big pot I had lying around. Job done! And now I still have to get rid of the rest of the big pile of soil. I don't foresee big problems with that. So soon I will be able to sow grass! And have more lawn! My garden looks tidier every week. And it's always nice to be able to please someone else with what is no use to you! The pile had also yielded a small oak tree I had given to David. This is working out quite well!

It was interesting to lug the big plant in its big pot up the stairs. And fit it into the car! But it worked. I hope it lives happily ever after chez Phil!

Fern in pot and not on heap!

28 June 2019

Progress on the roof

I think the roofer is busy! He appeared on a Saturday. Through the week I don't see much of him. He must be working on other stuff then. But slowly, the situation is improving anyway. Stacked slates have appeared on the roof, ready to be fastened, and more piles are waiting in the garden. I hope I'll have a finished roof soon!

27 June 2019

Sunny stroll in Dinorwic

I have been in a bit of a Dinorwic-phase lately! I had climbed there twice in the past two weeks, and gone for a short cold stroll on a Sunday. But my appetite wasn’t satisfied at all yet! So on the following Saturday, which happened to be quite sunny, I went back, intent on walking all around the mail pit. Then you still haven’t seen it all, but at least you’ve seen a lot.

My walk overlapped quite a bit with what I had done in my first weeks as a Welsh resident, but that was so long ago that although I recognised bits, it didn’t feel repetitive at all. And I barely met anyone! In the vicinity of the Sidings it was brimming with climbers, and there were more of these dotted around, but I didn’t see any other walkers. It was lovely! The place is absolutely littered with industrial heritage, and the views are great. I had a good time! And it took me just over two hours to do the loop. I did check out a lot of the levels I passed but I wasn’t exhaustive; that would have taken too much time. I think I’ll be back yet again! This is such a good place for a stroll. Maybe I should sleep there a bit more often too!

Lots of climbers! The Sidings is the level above that where the red-shirted person is belaying the green-shirted person

Abandoned machinery in one of the buildings

Amazing staircase going around the south end of the pit

Drumhouse and slate wagon

Buildings on one of the levels

A very cute building from which clearly the drums at the top of an incline were worked (drums underground; you can see some gaps in the floor between the rails in front of the buildings. That's where the drums are hidden! 

The incline associated with the building above

View down on all the buildings from the top of the quarry

Wild night out with the ThursdayNighters

A few months ago, Phil had suggested to go have a beer in a pub on a Saturday night. And it happened. It was the day I got my sofa. I had something to celebrate. We went to the Globe; I meet there with Jenny quite often too. But when I meet Jenny on Wednesday at 6 there tends to be nobody else. It's a different story on a Saturday night! We struggled to hear each other over the din of youthful people intent on drinking a lot more than we would.

This time we hoped it would be quieter. The students have gone home! So we met in the Globe again. I travelled up with Chris and Phil. When we came in we found a bored-looking David and lots of noise youthful people intent on drinking a lot more than we would. Oh dear! We were 15 minutes late. And we ordered a drink but dreamed of going elsewhere.

By the time we might have been ready to go seek solace elsewhere, Simon appeared. Good! Then we could leave. With him. We walked out and decided to go in the direction of the pier. There are pubs there! And they are a bit more out of the way. And it was a lovely evening so the walk was nice too.

The first pub we came across was the Tap and Spile. And it looked quiet! And it was! Only a handful of people, and a mournful Malamute, were in there. We were much happier there! And talked houses and shoes and children and whatnot. And when we had finished our drinks we walked back. Chris brought Phil, Simon and me home and that was it. It had got a bit later than is good for me and I had drunk two entire pints but it was nice. I am turning into a pub animal! Twice in one year already!

26 June 2019

Old underground project as good as done

When I think of underground projects I tend to think of our own. And I was not the only one! But there was an old project in the mine on the other side for which we had recently done a round of lugging scaffolding around. And now we would have a session trying to finish it off!

The whole issue was that there was a potential through trip through this mine, but there was a tricky point in it. Initially it had been blocked (by some collapse), then it had been unblocked by people but in a rather dangerous way, and we had been chipping away at it, and then with the scaffolding in place it had been stabilised. Now one could get through safely! And what the loose end were we needed to tidy up now I didn't know.

Many had said they would come. But many dropped out. In the end only four of us showed up! David had ideas of what to do; he wanted to put some base props at the top of the pitch for improved rigging. And there was some filling up of gaps in the actual worm hole. We we lugged up the base props, a drill, a ladder for in the actual worm hole, some pegs and resin, another rope, and such bits. We went up the ledge and pulled the props up too. Then we split; I helped David with putting the base props in place while Don and Dave went on and did stuff with the wormhole.

When David and I were done we went through to meet the others. I only now got to see the work done! And I was very impressed! It's so neat and so safe now. The ladder wasn't there; Dave said the rungs bent, even when he put his not-very-impressive weight on it. Unfortunately, the battery of my camera was flat so I cannot show what impressed me so much.

We had a sarnie at the top. Then we proceeded to try to get rid of some pointy rocks that were sticking into the passage leading to the worm hole. And that worked! David Hilti-capped them straight off. And then it was sort of time to go home. The worm hole has water pouring down it; you get wet getting through. And I was getting cold! Dave wasn't averse to leaving either. And it was the day before summer solstice; it was still more or less light outside!

David figured it would take one more trip to really finish it off. One of the things we would like to do is divert the water that comes down on you when you come through. Not sure if indeed it will only be one more trip but as it is, it is already quite marvellous!

25 June 2019

Bread not always a success

My bread had been getting better! But it couldn't last. I had been shopping for new ingredients and I had decided I should try oats. You get these on bread all the time! But when I did (I threw quite a lot in) it became clear the oats are for ON the bread, not IN. The loaf was not a loaf but a crumbly mess! Oh dear. So the oats will have to be eaten as porridge. And I'll be back at using the more conventional ingredients like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds!

24 June 2019

Run shirtlessly

This spring and summer, the weather has been a bit erratic. And perhaps having something to do with that, I have found myself sometimes going for a run a bit overdressed. I used to just live with that. But I changed my tack! I have recently started to just take the shirt off if it turns out to be too hot. I run in a double sports bra so it's not as if I'm skimpily dressed if I do. And it's so comfortable! And if the weather changes or you run into the shade or whatever you can pop it back on.

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about it; everyone around here is British and they can be right prudes. I remembered jumping into Llyn Peris in my sports underwear and getting very disapproving looks (although I didn't go into that amount of detail on the blog)! And I understand I suppose. When male students wear their trousers so low you get a full view on their undies I don't find that very pleasant. When females wear such thin leggings you know exactly what underwear they wear underneath them while trying not to, I don't find that very pleasant either. (I've not seen people of the other gender do these things.) But I thought long about it and I decided there is a difference between normal underwear and a sports bra. The latter is meant as outer wear. Google 'running' and you'll get lots of pictures of ladies in sports bras (and no shirts) on the first page*. So I suppose if I ran in my civilian bra that would rightly be frowned upon. Run in a sports bra and all is well.

And with that I am also on board with the body positivity movement. There's a campaign for just this! It feels radical to be a 40-something woman in a decidedly non-supermodel body and just show it. I am not in favour of wantonly encouraging nudity but I am in favour of being unapologetic about not conforming to beauty standards! And so far I have not had any comments. Not sure that is the criterion but I am relieved anyway. This new new strategy is a winner!

*: these all DO look like supermodels, though

23 June 2019

Climb the sidings: second attempt

The previous week we had gone to the Sidings, in Dinorwic, but had rained off the crag after we had pretty much all only climbed one route. So we decided to just try again the week after! The forecast was better.

We walked up and I just rigged the one route I could rig from above immediately. That was one rope up! The easy route was quickly rigged too. And I ended up climbing with Tony, who was feeling brave, so he lead another route. We were being executive!

When I seconded Tony's climb I was glad I hadn't had to lead it. But I climbed several routes (it stayed dry), lead nothing, but make a serious effort. One of the routes was a 6 of some sort! I think a 6+. Not bad for outdoors, as far as I am concerned. My climbing wasn't very elegant but I enjoyed it.

Ika at the top of a route

It had been a sunny day, so upon arriving at the bus stop I had changed into my leggings. Too warm for black jeans! But the sidings were in the shadow, and the wind was strong and cold, and after belaying Tony up his route I was ready for a jacket. And after belaying him again I added trousers, a buff, and a down jacket. That was better! We were pretty much all wearing that sort of attire. It really was cold! Difficult routes keep you warm, though.

It was a good night climbing! But we figured we should pick a crag that's sunny at that time of day for next time...

22 June 2019

Rainy stroll in Dinorwic

When I knew I didn't have to go offshore I figured I may have time for a walk! I wasn't sure yet how long I could make it. It depended a bit on how much time chores would take and what the weather was like.

After our late adventures on Thursday I was very tired on Friday and Saturday. (I am so old! I suffer for days from one post-midnight bedtime.) On Sunday I thought I'd go in the afternoon! Even though clouds were just gathering. I didn't want a long walk so I went to Dinorwic. I had noticed there is a small road that leads quite close to it. So I drove there, parked up, and wondered what I'd see. It was raining by then.

I had a nice little stroll. Not too long; dinnertime was approaching and I was getting a bit soaked. And I was blown out of my clothes. At some point I went up an old stairway but aborted the mission as I was almost blown off. But it was lovely! I should do this more often! It's beautiful and a lot quicker than walking from the road to the reservoirs!

When I got home I immediately took my wet jacket, shoes and trousers off, and put some dry stuff on. But it was bleak and I was still a bit chilly so even though it was mid June, I decided to light the wood fire. We live in strange times; last year around the same date I was swimming in the river behind my house because I needed to cool down!  But luckily, Dinorwic is very beautiful in crap weather...

How the quarry greets you if you come in via this route

Looking across

Flowers on a gallery

Ruined buildings

 Another incline

The place can look quite bleak

21 June 2019

Continued campaign against the lump full of ferns

When I bought the house, and the garden, I saw all the raised beds and a clump of ferns. I sort of assumed the ferns were in a raised bed too. And raised it was! But not a bed. It was a heap of left-over soil with a plastic sheet over it. And the ferns had grown through the sheet! And I had decided I should get rid of that one day. And that day had come. I started soon after my mother left. But I realised it was one of these issues I needed to chip away at over a longish period of time. So every weekend since I did something!

It tends to involve chopping away at the ferns with blunt violence; they hold on well and if the clump is big you can only deal with it by subdividing it into smaller clumps and then ripping these off. Then you have to comb the soil of the roots under the sheet. Or the other way around! And then you can dump the ferns in the garden waste bin and put the soil in a bucket. I dump it in the raised beds; altogether they represent quite an area so you can dump quite a lot on them. If I have much left after that I can just spread it out over the lawn! That would mean strictly no walking into the bedroom from the garden for a while! But I can do that.

About one thirds of the ferns are now gone. And probably less than half of the soil. And I have separated quite some of the sheet from the soil, but I can only finalise that once the last ferns are gone. Progress is being made! And when it’s done I’ll sow grass seed. And then have a very sophisticated lawn!

20 June 2019

Go offshore - or not

On the first of May I went off to sea to get some samples for the project of my MSc student (yes the blog has a slight lag). I got some somewhat quick-and-dirty samples so at least we could quickly get an idea of whether the sediments yielded what we hoped they would, and to allow the student to get familiar with sample processing and foraminifera identification. Then that would be done by the time we would go out and get the proper samples!

The trial samples were 'grab samples' taken from the small boat; you have little control over where exactly you take your samples from as the boat drifts, and you have no information on the position of the coring equipment other than what the position is of the boat from which you hold the rope it dangles from. The bigger boat can hold steady, it has a box corer which leaves the top of the sediment surface intact, and the box corer can be tracked so you know exactly where your sample was from. The boat also has more sophisticated geophysical equipment so you can actually 'see' the sea floor. The small boat gives you only a grainy line.

We would leave the 8th of June; at the start of a week long cruise. We would be allowed off after our work was done. But then the plans changed; we would do the end of the cruise, leaving the 14th. But the week had had some atrocious weather and the boat had had to seek shelter in a bay. It would not be back in time to pick us up! So we were postponed again.

The plan now is that we hitch a ride on yet another cruise that happens to go in roughly the same direction. And this time it looks like we may have to do the whole thing! I am not really looking forward to being locked up on the boat for a whole working week if our work will probably only be a day, but well, I may have to. I don't think my student is keen or ready to go alone. And I can of course bring a laptop and try to get some work done, but there is always a limit to what you can do with a stand-alone computer (not the newest either) without university licenses. If I can do anything on a rocking ship. I clearly remember my experiences on the Macoma! Even though that is probably worse. So far I suspect a negative correlation between how big a vessel is and how likely I am to get woozy in the stomach sailing on it. I was fine on 120 m moloch Marion Dufresne back in the days (before the blog), even though to the left and the right of me other scientists were vomiting.

I am going to wait and see what really happens though! I suppose the way thing went so far shows you never know how boat work will go until it's happening. But I hope we'll get some proper samples! And I also hope they show us what we want them to show...

19 June 2019

Dig with film crew

We haven't dug much for a while. But that didn't mean interest had faded. And to put it stronger: the dig had attracted external attention. Miles often had camera crews in his mine; Bear Grylls had scampered around in it, and Javier Botet had been scary in it, and God knows who else. And he had had the crew of the TV series 'Hidden Wales' in there too. That programme sounded cool! But not watching TV I had only heard of it.

It was that crew that wanted to see our dig. And he had agreed. And he had asked if I was willing to help. As there are two digs there, or three if you count our horizontal and vertical bit separately, and he didn't quite know what exactly they wanted, he had enlisted the ThursdayNighters altogether. So we gathered at the parking lot. I expected to meet Miles and the crew there, but nobody appeared. We just went up; they might be at the Manager's office. They weren't, so we went in. And found them in the adit. It turned out they had done a recce and were on the way to meet us on the parking lot after all, but were a bit late! Now we would just go ahead while they went out to get harnesses.

It took a while to get all these ThursdayNighters down the pitch. The easiest thing is just walk down the steps, secured to the handline, but several overly safety-conscious people abseiled the whole thing. Oh well. Then I showed Don and David how far we had progressed since the last time they had seen the dig. The others weren't keen! And when we were down again Don and David vanished into Dig 1, but I decided to see if the crew was imminent. And they were. But it took a while to get them down too! And without any further introduction the filming started. I mean, the filming started at the top, but the filming of us started. The presenter, Will Millard, came down and introduced himself to us on camera. And then the 'can you do that again?' 'can you stand here?' 'can you guys walk down when I say so?' started. But it wasn't too bad! Rarely more than two takes. I had seen much worse when I had been part of a crew looking after the presenter of a similar programme in Cornwall. And Will seemed to know how to keep non-professionals at ease.

The whole crew was quite small: James the producer, Nathan the cameraman, and Will the presenter. Nathan had one big camera that was only marginally bigger than the SLR David sometimes brings down, and then there were two GoPros. That was it! Oh and James had an additional big microphone in a bag. We went into Generator chamber and had a chat there, over the map, about where we were, what we had been doing, and where we were trying to go. That was a bit more talking on camera than I had anticipated. But I think it went OK! And then the men took their harnesses off as I warned their cowstails would snag, and we were off. We would first go through first squeeze of the the horizontal part of the dig; we would go into the first level, just talk about how many more squeezes there were, and then go back. The we would do the vertical dig all the way to the end. And so we did! I thought it was a pity we didn't do this part of the dig all the way to the end; I could easily see a double speed take of squeezing through all squeezes! But no.

When we were doing the vertical bit, which isn't overly spacious, it was decided Nathan would hide in a dead end we had dug and film Will scrambling past with me in tow; then I would take over the camera (one of the GoPros) and follow him all the way up. I was confident I could climb up one-handed. I've practiced! What I hadn't practiced was filming but they said anything I would get was bonus. And they would put me in the credits as a camerawoman!

We slithered back down. Nathan and Will did a few more takes at the bottom while James, Miles and I ate chocolate. I also scampered off to see how the ThursdayNighters were who I could hear in Generator Chamber. They were done in Dig 1 (which hadn't changed! Great! And maybe we'll even have a last stab at it) and were now pretty much waiting for us.

I went back; they were almost done! It turned out that Will had slipped while I had been in Generator Chamber. Oh dear! I felt guilty. He was our guest after all!

When we were done I asked for a group photo, but my camera wasn't collaborating so James took one on his phone for me, and then we put our harnesses/cowstails back on and headed out. It was a bit of a queue (Miles and I are up there in seconds but we've practiced a lot more than any of the others) but in the end we got up. And out. It was later than normal! I was getting yawny.

At the parking lot everyone said goodbye to everyone. The film crew hoped to be in Croesor the next day. I hope that will happen! And we will have to wait to see the results of our labours. It will be broadcast some time in 2020! Watch this space...

Crew pic! From right to left Nathan, Will, Miles and me. Pic by James.

18 June 2019

A level exam

It only took me a year to get my Welsh GCSE. The next step is an A level. But that took four years! Not because the step was so big, but because the A level exams were always at the same time as our June fieldwork. And they're only once a year! But this year the date of the fieldwork was changed to September, so finally I was free to actually attempt the exam. So I did!

I had to submit some files beforehand: two recorded conversations, and one text about myself. But now the main part would take place. The written part on Wednesday, and the oral part on Thursday.

On that Wednesday I walked into the building where the last time the exams (or at least one of them) had taken place. But nothing suggested any relevance to the exam! I walked back into the building where we have classes; this one doesn't have exam halls. But then it dawned on me we wouldn't need one. Not many people progress to A level! And near the entrance I saw a sign saying I should go to room 'Hirael'. I found two more candidates there. We had a bit of a chat until the invigilator came to get us. We would do the exam in the room next door. And only seven tables were standing ready for us! I knew one candidate had had to pull out due to a concussion, so we should have been eight. And only one was a male. Still strange, that gendered aspect of learning a language.

We started with an exercise where you have to reword sentences (using idiom), and have to fill gaps in sentences. If you know what the answer is it's easy. If you don't know, it's hard to guess! I did the exercise in just over 20 minutes, and handed my paper in so I could go outside and have a coffee. We wouldn't start on the next bit in over half an hour! But the invigilator, Sharon, looked shocked. She couldn't believe I was really done. She thought I was giving up and going away! I reassured her and walked out.

The second part was writing: we were given two sets of two options of a topic for a type of text. I chose to write one letter in which I nominated someone to be considered to be celebrated in a fictional TV programme, and an article in the local newspaper about a fictional protest that had taken place. We had to write between 190 and 210 words. I spent a lot of time writing a draft and counting words. That was a pity! I only just managed to finish within the given hour and a half. No time to look over it! Oh well. I hope it went well.

When this was done we had a one hour lunch break. And then we had the last task: listening. We were played two radio fragments twice, and had to answer questions about it. I figured it went well! I couldn't answer what someone's dad's job was as I didn't know (and thus not recognised) the Welsh word for 'accountant' but that was pretty much all I knew had been wrong. And at the end of it we could go. Day one done!

The next day I was back at 8.30. A few minutes later I was given the instructions sheet. It contained one text I had to read and then answer questions about, two statements of which I had to pick one to discuss, and two topics I could choose from to discuss in relation to myself. I was allowed to use a dictionary to look up things I thought I might want to say about them.

Then Sharon came to get me. She introduced me to a bloke I didn't know; they try to have you talk to a stranger. This man was quite friendly. And it soon became clear we were on the same wavelength. He agreed with me in the statement section. I think we could have talked for a while longer. But at some point he said we were done. And that I had done really well!

Now all I have to do is wait up to 8 weeks to get my results But I have faith! And then that's sort of it in this succession of exams! But there are always more qualifications to get...

17 June 2019

Call the police

My alarm went at 6:30. I got up and headed for the bathroom to have a shower. And saw something move outside! I did a double take. It was man! Climbing over a fence into the neighbour's garden! Not 'the' neighbour; this was the garden of a house on the next street downstream. The garden touch in the middle. But this didn't look at all like the lady who lives there. I saw him walk through the garden, scale the roof of an outbuilding on the other side, and vanish from sight. What to do? I first thought this must be someone who had forgot he key of the gate or something; it was broad daylight! A burglar wouldn't be around at this time. But the I remembered it was just after 6:30. Quite a lot of people would still be asleep! So this wasn't right. And I figured the police needed to know. But it didn't seem overly urgent. I phoned 101.

They didn't answer. The recorded message did mention you can report things online. I had a look on the website, but it said that if a suspect was actually on the scene, or there was risk of damage to property, one should phone 999. So I did! And I got a call handler. She said she'd put me through to the police. That took a while. It sounded like she was trying very many lines before someone picked up! Budget cuts, I imagine. The person who finally answered the phone struggled to hear what I was saying, and wondered if she was on speaker phone. She wasn't! But I managed to explain the situation to her, and even give her my name (thanks Margot Robbie for making the name more famous!) She said she'd send someone over and I thanked her. And had that shower. With the roller blinds closed. And then had breakfast. 

Then I saw more movement outside. In my garden, this time! But it was a cop! Maybe he had knocked the front door and I hadn't heard. I let him in. I showed him where I had seen the person. He was going to have a look around. But by now the trespasser could be miles away! Oh well. I suppose it's good these things are reported. If someone finds someone in my garden who clearly doesn't belong there I hope they phone the cops too!

PS the same thing happened two days later! But then I also saw him come back, only minutes later. What on Earth is there beyond that outbuilding?

16 June 2019

Quick climb before the rain starts

I'd climbed for the first time in ages and had had a good time. So when the week after we'd go into Dinorwic (Australia, to be precise) I was keen to join! We'd done the 'sidings' before. Even though I'd just been there after the wedding. In Dinorwic, that is; I wasn't going to lug my bike up to Australia (the various parts of the quarry are named after various geographical locations).

I drove directly to the meeting point and met the others; there were six of us. We packed ropes and walked up. We first went to a level not very high up, and had a look, but the routes looked too difficult. So onward, to the sidings! We know we can do these.

These routes look too hard
(NB that dog is not with us!)

Nice view into one of the pits

At the sidings we had a look. There was one easy route and Eifion was on it like the clappers. I wasn't keen on leading the others but I wondered if they could be rigged from the top. I took a rope and two karabiners up and found that yes, one of the routes could be rigged that way. I thought I'd manage more if I used the clipstick to pull the chains up! But that was optimistic. But Sion brought a rope up the easy route and managed to rig the route next to it. That was three ropes up and only six of us and that was enough. And there were clouds coming in; if I wanted to climb anything I would have to be quick. It's like the last time I was here! Climb quickly and then get chased away by the rain. 

There was a rope free; the one I had put there. I started climbing but it rained already. The rock got all slippery! At a scary bit with little to hold on to and a nasty swing if you came off I didn't fancy it anymore. I asked to be lowered. But we still had two routes you couldn't access from the top rigged, so I volunteered to climb the easy route (less easy now) and bring the ropes down. And I did! It was a bit faffy but it worked. And then we packed up. No point staying!

On the way back I dropped a climber off in Rachub; she had come a few times before but it was the first time I saw her. She didn't drive and her mom had dropped her off, but as she lived in Rachub I could easily take her back. She turned out to be a psychology fresher! Interesting. 

Maybe one day we'll climb in Dinorwic and it stays dry! That would be lovely! 

15 June 2019

Reroofing in progress

Initially the roofer was booked in for May 6th. But things often take longer than intended! So the scaffolding went up in late May. And then nothing happened for two weeks. But on a Saturday something stirred! I thought it was typical they started on a market day. The back entrance of Neuadd Ogwen is busy then! But oh well. Nobody seemed to mind.

When the men started the roof came off quickly! It's the building back up that takes time. In a matter of days the wood structure was up again but I don't know how long the slates will take. But the work is underway! Soon I will have a proper waterproof garage! I look forward to it. And it immediately has something to do: store all the firewood that the taking down of the roof has yielded!

Starting putting the roof back up

Nice and bright inside

The felt is on; it's now waterproof! Now it needs protection! 

14 June 2019

First sweet loaf

Sometimes I like something sweet. But generally not too sweet! I sometimes buy a funky loaf with cranberries and nuts, or with cherries and chocolate. Or a bara brith. Then these satisfy that urge. But now I can make them myself! I thought I'd just make a loaf with fruits and nuts in, but then I came across a recipe for banana bread. And that tempted me! I like banana bread. And it even needs only the 'quick' setting, which is still more than two hours, but not the 4:44 my regular bread takes. So after my wedding adventure I thought something nice with lunch would be pleasant and I tried a recipe I had found online. Cranberry banana bread! And it worked. It wasn't perfect; the mixing had been a bit flawed and there were clumps of flour in the corners, and it was a bit sweeter than I normally have (but well, it's banana bread), but it tasted good! It even looked good. I can do this!

13 June 2019

Wedding Juan and Caro

When I started to work at Bangor University, I spent the first years sharing my office with lecturer Paul, and PhD students Juan an Stella. They were lovely office mates! But one after the other left; Juan departed in spring 2017. Some time ago he came back to defend his thesis. And while he was in town anyway he introduced me to his wife. His wife! I had no idea anything like that was on the cards. He didn't seem the marrying kind. I once went on a cruise while he was dating girlfriend X and by the time I got back he was dating girlfriend Y. Oh well! I'm glad he figured he had found the one. And he said I should keep June the 8th free for a wedding celebration.

And then June the 8th approached! I had got more details in the invitation; it was at the house of my colleague Stella (not PhD student Stella), would start in the early afternoon, and would be quite casual. Stella lives in what allegedly was the house of the Dinorwic quarry doctor, and it's on the path from the 'Dinorwic Bus Stop' and the slate museum. When I had walked past with Monique we had commented on it! It looked really big but quite suitable to have a B&B in; the location was amazing so it would certainly attract people. And in reality Stella just has lots of children, and fills the rest of the place up with lodgers. And two of these lodgers had been Juan and his now wife! Hence the connection.

I had decided that Dinorwic isn't really far. I should bike! And I also decided I should stay in the quarry overnight. It's not an ideal camping space; it barely has running water you can get to, the path is meant for pedestrians only so if you go in on bicycle you have to do some gymnastics at the kissing gates, and you're not supposed to get off the path. But it's such a beautiful spot! And I could just bring water from Stella's house. So that was my plan. I would not be travelling light; I needed bike clothes and wedding clothes and camping kit and food and drink as it was a potluck party. But I can do that! So on the 8th I packed my trusted old black bike. I had baked a spinach pie the night before, and had bought some wine. It wasn't a perfect day for this; it was forecast to rain all the way to Dinorwic. But once I was there it should clear up, and the day after should be dry and bright!

Ready for a wedding!

The landscape is beautiful but I didn't see much of it. It got worse than this!  

I set off. It rained only lightly! And I biked up the hill. At least; some of it. The road is steep, my bag was heavy, so I walked some of it. And when I got to the top of the steep bit next to the river Galedffrwd the worst was over and I could bike the rest. It was still uphill, and sweaty, and not as nice as it could have been due to rain and fog, but it was OK. I did manage to miss a junction and accidentally bike to the parking spot for the walk to the Electric Mountain reservoirs, but that only meant a few hundred meters of extra biking at the most. And when I got close to Deiniolen it got easy. Now it was downhill! And I was soon at my destination. I saw Stella through the window and she was glad to see me. She didn't know I was coming! 

I plonked my bike in the hall, took off helmet and show covers (I wasn't wearing my waterproof trousers), and looked out for a familiar face. Not many were around! But some. And then I saw Juan. He was about to get into his wedding shirt and was looking for ironing equipment. He didn't find it!

I found out where to put my wine and pie, and where to change into a dress. I ended up in the noisy bride-and-bridesmaids room. An honour! I changed, draped my sweaty clothes over the bike, and asked if I could help. Stella decided I could go and hunt for mugs around the house, and clean them. They would come in handy later! But soon I heard a familiar voice. James! I forgot the mugs and went to greet him. It was good to see him! 

Later more old Bangor sclerochronologists (don't ask) appeared: Paul! And Alejandro (who had been the photographer at another wedding I had attended; it's a small world!) And also some people who had stayed in Bangor. Good to see them all! But I was clearly early; I had gone by the invitation that said the ceremony was at 2 but Juan had decided it would be 2.45. Oh well. I could have had more time at home to prepare, but then again, soon after I arrived it came bucketing down! I was glad I had only biked through light rain. 

I chatted with the Ocean Scientists and had some nibbles. I had left at noon; too early for lunch! And now I needed some. And then we were asked to sit down. Juan was at the head of the marquee, and the bride, Caro, was walked in by her two parents. Juan and Caro were already married, btw; I was serious when I had already announced her as his wife. They just celebrated in several locations (another party would be in Puerto Rico) and I suppose they just did a ceremony like this every time to make it wedding-like. I heard later they had legally married without any pomp at the registry office, so maybe this was the first time they bothered with a dress and rings and whatnot! 

A friend did a non-legally-binding but beautiful ceremony. Then we congratulated the new couple and drank to them. And then next thing was: photos! They had asked everyone to bring a colourful umbrella as they knew this was North Wales and it was probably suitable. We did a shoot on the path! Then there was the newlyweds-only photoshoot in the quarry, and then we joined for sunny pictures. By now the weather was great! (Between things I had hung my sweaty clothes out: a very good idea!) I always enjoy being in Dinorwic. I also had a long chat with the mother of the bride. She was nice! And we showed James around; he had lived in the area for some 30 years but never been here. What a strange man! And then it was time to get back for dinner. There was a BBQ and there was all the food the guests had brought. And it looked amazing! Such cooks there were. I sat down with the Ocean Sciences lot and we ate ourselves stuffed.

The venue; notice the marquee in the garden 

The photographer and the newlyweds 

During the last stages of the dinner Stella suddenly started to ask people to give a speech. They were all startled! But they all obliged. So we had Stella herself first, James second, Harriet (an old housemate of Juan's and a bridesmaid) next; then the parents felt they couldn't stay behind and one parent of each set did a speech too. The father of the groom was in tears! Sweet. But by then the Ocean Sciences contingent was getting restless; one couple needed to pick the kid up from somewhere, another couple still had to travel a fair distance and they would give Paul a lift, James also still had to drive somewhere far, so we sort of all started to think of leaving. I wanted to pitch my tent in at least some daylight! So I went into the house, changed back into my biking clothes, filled both my flask and my water bladder, packed the bike up again, and started to say goodbye! And then I left. 

The evening immediately was different. On my own again! I got my bike to the gate you get over when you go climbing in the quarry and started scouting. And I found a little patch that was soft and looked like I could get a few pegs into the ground.That would be it for the night! I pitched my tent. And as soon as it stood I dived in: it started raining heavily. Oi! That was not forecast. But it didn't last and I came out again. I first had a wash in a big puddle (not ideal, but still nice) and then had a cup of tea (from the flask!) in the dying light. Then it was bedtime.

You can just about make out my tent against a dramatic backdrop

Scenic skyline!

In the morning I got out of bed and got my stuff ready for breakfast. I made sure to pick a high spot for this: the midges were out! And any breeze to chase them away is welcome. I got my stove ready and lit it. So far so good! But then I saw the fuel pump was leaking. Badly. And fuel is, well, combustible. Within seconds of me noticing it had caught fire. Oh dear! The fuel pump is directly in the fuel bottle of course. I don't want that kind of situation. So I took the water I had intended for porridge and coffee and used it to extinguish the flames. All of them! And I had a look; the pump was damaged by fire, as expected. I did not want to try again. I resigned myself to no coffee or breakfast and packed up! I would have coffee at home. 

My tent on front of the incline which hosts a herd of goats

The way back went rather fast. The uphill bit is short, and not half as steep as the way up through Mynydd Llandygai! So even though I sometimes stopped to take a picture I was home in 35 minutes, just before 8:30. Time for breakfast! 

This would have been the view on the way there if I would have been able to see anything

The compromised fuel pump

I was wondering what things would be like at the wedding. I knew several guests were staying! I am sure they partied deep into the night. I hope it was the wedding party Juan and Caro had hoped for! And I hope they have a very long marriage to look back on this day!