30 September 2019

Lose a module

I went to the Head of School to see if he could lessen my workload. I felt overburdened! And I asked for my tasks outside teaching to be taken off me. I do Welcome Week, Peer Guides and Open Days, and these first two tasks are the busiest the week before Welcome Week and that week I am on fieldwork nowadays. But what is the update? I lost a module! David hadn't found someone yet to offload my non-teaching tasks onto, but one day I got invited by Jaco to talk about him taking over module organisation for one module. I hadn't asked for that! And he hadn't told me he would do that. I had to hear from Jaco. But am I complaining? No! I am happy to be responsible for one thing fewer in the second semester. And I like the module: Earth, Climate and Evolution, but well I can still like it if I don't have to organise it. So bring it on! My teaching load doesn't diminish much but the stress does. And I'll keep reminding David of the other things! He had agreed with me Laugharne and Welcome Week is a bad combination. I'm sure he'll find someone for this!

29 September 2019

Less cheese

I love cheese! I have a two-shelves-and-one-drawer fridge and the top shelf is for cheese alone. I only eat cheeseless meals when I eat something that is vaguely inspired by Asian kitchen. (And breakfast.) But the tide is changing! I've known for a long time that eating dairy is bad for the environment. I should not consume so much of it. But it's hard if you're a Dutch vegetarian to make inner peace with the concept! But slowly it's coming through. I still eat milk with my breakfast. I only just got my milkman! I want to enjoy that for a bit. And I won't phase out cheese from my main meals. Yet. But I am eating much less of it these days. You don't have to drown your vegetables in the stuff! And now I may be ready to reduce the amount of cheese I eat with lunch.

My standard lunch would be sandwiches with cheese, peanut butter and something sweet, like Nutella. (And fruit, but that's not relevant here.) And how would you replace the cheese? But now I have two ideas. One is: marmite. When we are on the fieldwork in the south we always have marmite, as one of us never eats it at home (wife doesn't like it) but sees his chance here. And this time we had gone shopping and accidentally bought two jars. And I took one home! And I know the stuff has been for sale since forever, but I am a creature of habit and something needs to shake me out of my patterns. Like this.

The other idea is: vegan pate. I try to go to the monthly market in Neuadd Ogwen, and the last time there was a lady there who sold that stuff. And I tried some! She had three flavours, and you could buy a tub of each for £10. And I did! As it doesn't keep very well and I have no freezer I gave one to my vegan colleague. And ate the others! It's nice, and good for your soul. So I need to find out if she's often at this market, and also if she sells via other outlets. I could imagine the hippy shop in Upper Bangor! And the farmshop in Tregarth. I have to investigate. If I eat these things I can eat less cheese and feel good about that! And will I ever become fully vegan? No idea. Maybe! But I'm still not ready for that...

Yes, the lady who makes this stuff has Dutch ancestry!

28 September 2019

Firewood rack

When I had tackled the enormous pile of wood the roofer had left I made a pile of sawn wood in the corner of the garage. I piled it up as high as I could reach! And on the non-corner side I just wedged a long pole between the firewood and some shelving. Job done! But now I needed something more sophisticated.

I had wood leftover from my cupboard project, and some of which I don't remember what I initially had it for. And I had a dedicated space in the garage where I wanted it to be. And it all worked out well! The wood I had was tall, and cut in two it had the right width. The depth I did with the other wood. And I had an odd end for a diagonal. So all that wood is now used! So if I now have an hour or so I can go and saw away. Before I've filled this rack some time will pass!

Ready! But still as good as empty

27 September 2019

Take Big Dave into Seler Ddu

The PCG was coming to Wales again! The people I started my underground career with. Big Dave sent me a message. And it would be the weekend after Welcome Week. So I would be able to go out with them for a bit!

Welcome Week kept me busy so I didn't phone Dave until I was home on Friday and dinner was underway. And they had done Aberllyn that day! A wise choice. On Sunday they would do Milwr Tunnel. I didn't want to join! It's a long trip. It's more than an hour away, and it's a long trip, especially with slow people. And I'm afraid Dave is one! So that left Saturday. And the forecast for that day was great. I figured what we needed was something he hadn't done yet, that wasn't too much of a walk to get to, that was quite small so we wouldn't spend too much time underground while the weather was great, and that was pleasant to be near in great weather. So I went with Seler Ddu. I had to think quick!

I said I would be at the hut they had rented at 10. And all should be well. Except that I had sort of forgot to check where the hut was. And where the mine was. And where my kit was. I ended up on an uncomfortable road I thought I remembered the driveway to the hut was, all confused. But there was internet signal there and I just googled the place. Wrong road, oops! I texted Dave to say I would be late and drove to where I was supposed to be.

When I got there they were still complete! It wasn't a big delegation. It was good to see them! We had Big Dave, Even Bigger Dave, Richard, Laura and Fran. Dave would drop off Richard and Laura who would walk Tryfan and Glyder Fawr, go visit Penrhyn Castle, and then pick them up on the other side. I would get Big Dave and Fran. And we got into Dave's car and set off.

When we got there Dave was worried I would make him walk up a hill. And I did! But not a big one. And while I packed my bag I realised I had forgot my gloves and my helmet. My head really wasn't with it this day! But Fran lent me a head torch and Dave lent me some gloves. And we said hello to two Germans who were on a walk. The bloke was barefoot!

Getting ready

When we had either walked or dragged ourselves up to the entrance that leads to the little waterfall Dave was knackered. So we first had a breather in the sun! And then we went in. Then we did another breather (Dave was not at his best) and then proceeded to the main entrance. There we had yet another breather!

Walking up

 Dave having a snooze

Finally we went in. And had a look around. They liked the pickaxe marks! But it's not a big place, so we were out fairly early. And then, you guessed it, had another breather! But I was keen to hop to the top of the hill. It looked beautiful! And Dave was probably quite fine having another snooze.

Fran went with me. We walked up and beautiful it was indeed! What a place, such views. But Dave was waiting so we quite soon came down again.

View from the top to the east

 View roughly south

We walked back down, and came across our Germans again. They were fascinated with the mine and we showed them where the entrances were. They lived nearby; maybe they'll go and explore one day! Then we continued down, changed, and got into the car. While we drove back I had an idea. We could drive back through the Nantlle Valley! I could point out the entrances to Benallt, Simdde Tylluan and Drws y Coed. And so we did. Bu then it was time to proceed to the hut. We drove the scenic route; via Pen y Pass. And when we drove past the lay-by near Llanberis Copper Mine we saw a man sitting on a bench. It looked like Dave! So Big Dave made a U-turn where he could and we drove back. And it was him! He was waiting for Laura and Rich. And Rich had left his phone. We used it to phone Laura (after figuring out how it works; I came in handy there! i have the same model) and they turned out to be really close. So we left them to it and went back to the hut.

There we had some tea. And a slice of cake made by Dave's wife! But that spelled the end of my visit. I gave Dave a hug and drove back. I was glad I didn't bump into Dave coming back, as the driveway has no passing places. And now I drove home the sensible way.

It was good to see them! And Dave said next year they wanted to come a bit earlier in the year. That might mean during Laugharne, or maybe during Welcome Week. Or before all that! Maybe that would be better! And I'll have to think of a list of places to go! 

Plums out, apples in

It's mid September! The time for the plum tree to be exhausted. It happened around the same time last year. And that is pretty much the time the apple tree takes over. Although this year, that will be a very short-lived affair. I have eleven apples this year! In contrast to the hundreds last year. But the ones I have look good.

I like the popping into the garden in the morning in order to pick some fruit for my lunch. But that will soon be over! These apples won't last me long, and soon it will be pitch dark when I leave the house. But that's nice too. In stead of fruit from the garden I will be enjoying wood from the house!

The last plums!

Empty plum tree

And now the apple tree: not much there

But the few apples there are look good!

26 September 2019

Some autumn views

It's a strange time! I think all the time autumn has come and summer is over. And then it comes back! But the days have shortened so that I now sometimes bike home in the dark, and I have started eating in the kitchen too. No point eating in the bedroom if the view shows only darkness! And in the morning I sometimes need gloves. And the trees on the other side of the river are turning. And I have several clumps of mushrooms in my garden. I like it! And I thought I'd share it here. A bit of an eclectic mix but why not!

One of my succulents went funny

The pier at low tide on my commute home

Low tide in general

The moon early in the morning, seen from my bedroom

The leaves are turning

Pretty mushrooms

25 September 2019

Welcome Week 2019

It started on Friday! I was fresh back from Laugharne, and I would meet the Peer Guides at one O'clock. And when I did they all seemed rather ready. Whether the system was too was another matter! But that is explained elsewhere. And then over the weekend things were quiet. I did get emails about one student who wanted another peer guide! And that was fairly easily sorted. And that was mostly it. 

Then it was Monday. And then all freshers would come to SOS. And there were more than 200 of them! They didn't all show up but still, the lab was absolutely packed. They would be welcomed by the Head of School and by me, would be given a safety briefing by the University's Health and Safety officer, and an explanation of the possibilities regarding being taught in Welsh. And then they would meet their personal tutors. And then central services would do a presentation. And then the students would go back to Bangor!

It was interesting to see busload after busload of students walk in. But we managed to fit them all! And things went well. Until there was a drinks-and-brownie break. And that resulted in an enormous queue! We need to think of a way of doing that better if we ever have such student numbers.

The Head of School welcomes the freshers

I got to meet my group. As usual, there were some introverts and some extroverts. It's always difficult to make sure the latter don't drown out the former. We'll see how I manage! But it seemed to be a nice group. Even though I only had seven out of nine. 

I chaired the entire thing, and did my half hour welcome talk, and in between tried to field questions from both freshers and peer guides. I was an obvious person to go to! But it was hectic. And when they all left we had a huge lab to put back into its normal state. We had had to bring in all chairs from one of the MSc labs! And now these had to go back. When that was done I was knackered and very thirsty. At least I didn't have to do any such things the day after. 

On Wednesday we had a coffee morning but I had accidentally booked a dentist's appointment straight over it. So Suzie took over from me! As thanks for me making her a core log. That was really nice of her! But some issues came to the fore (I won't go into detail) that meant we had to do quite some firefighting in the afternoon. 

On Thursday we had the traditional beach trip. Last year it had been cancelled due to a wind warning but this time the weather was amazing. So it was a bit dull (I'm not sure we need staff there) but dull in the most delightful way! The peer guides had it all under control, it's a beautiful beach, especially on a day like that. The freshers made sand castles, tried to fill PVC pipes with water in spite of them having holes in, and did tug of war. And then time was up!

Sandcastle building

The freshers doing tug-of-war while the peer guides (royal blue shirts) cheer them on

And then we had reached Friday! That was a day for more presentations. First from the Sustainability lab and the Student Union, and then taster lectures by us. The idea was that four of us would do a 15 minute lecture. David, the Head of School, would kick off, talking about sea ice. He got carried away and overran! And then we had a chap who was a maternity cover and specialises in marine benthos (worms and stuff). He got carried away and overran! And then we had Sarah on camouflage in cuttlefish. She got carried away and overran! And then I decided to bin mine. And I had a meeting in Menai Bridge shortly after so I left after that. Only the peer guides would do a small spiel and that was it. And that afternoon the freshers would go crabbing in the amazing weather. And then there probably was a trip to the pub. And then welcome week was over!

In the first week of term we will have a debrief. And then we'll see what they all think of it! But so far I'm quite chuffed with how it all went. All thanks to the peer guides! Where would we be without them. And ok also thanks to the School's secretary as she booked the rooms and the buses and whatnot. But the peer guides ran the show and they ran it well!

24 September 2019

Allocation of freshers to peer guides

This is such a riveting topic! I am sure all my readers will consider this post a veritable page-turner (or down-scroller, I suppose). But let me explain why I dedicate a whole post to this.

In the olden days, when Welcome Week would approaching, the Schools would be given a spreadsheet with all their freshers and one with the peer guides, and then either the peer guides of the peer guide coordinator just assigns the students to the peer guides. And then the peer guides and the freshers get each other's contact details and it all starts rolling. But now it had all gone digital! All freshers and peer guides appear on a site and I have to assign them. And the good thing is that you can select the freshers on the basis on various useful things such as age or which student halls they live in. Or whether they speak Welsh. Suchlike! So the allocation is not too much of a faff. But then the list of freshers is gone. You can then only access them via their peer guide. So if you get a request from a certain fresher to be assigned a peer guide with some specific attribute or something like that, you have to check the lists of all individual peer guides until you find the fresher. And then sort it out! I had 22 peer guides and the site was slow. On my office computer it took some 40 to 45 seconds to get back from the freshers list of one peer guide to the list of peer guides. So if you find the fresher in the last peer guide's list you've been at it for almost half an hour! Not good. 

But that was not the worst. The freshers fill out their personal profile, with things such as contact details, and then they indicate in a drop-down menu who they want to disclose that information to. And very many had only released their university email address to their peer guides! They probably had been a bit absent-minded when doing that, because traditionally, the freshers only start accessing their university email once they get here. But the peer guides need to get in touch before that! And that clearly didn't go so well. As I have access to all the data (and our admissions team does too) I decided after the meeting to send a bulk email to all the freshers pointing out that some might have indeed only have released their university address while not actually reading that yet. I sent that to their personal addresses. I could only hope it would help! But I think the website needs to warn against that. There is clearly still room for improvement.

It didn't help I had to do some of this in Laugharne. Things kept changing! New freshers coming in, for example. So I needed to keep tweaking the allocations. In a holiday chalet with shaky wifi. It wasn't pleasant. But hopefully this is the last time I have to sort this!

23 September 2019

Welsh starts again

It's a new academic year, so all Welsh classes are starting again! I had to pick one. There was a very interesting one about Welsh Culture. I assumed it would be a bit like the one on Local History; not really a Welsh class, but good practice anyway. But it was on Friday between 10 and 12 or something like that. I can't do that! I need an evening class. And I went for the best of some not overly good options; a class that was doing the highest level proper Welsh course. They seemed to have already started. I have done that class but I forget things! It would be good practice. And yes maybe my level would be a bit high but I didn't expect problems. So I went! And it was a nice group. And it was good practice. And I re-learned things I had already forgot. So I think it was a reasonable choice! And if I sometimes have to miss a class that's OK...

22 September 2019

Laugharne aftermath

The Laugharne fieldtrip went well! As far as I could see. The weather was generally fine, the students were on it, the staff too, and there were no mishaps such as students losing their car keys in the salt marsh, or anyone needing transporting to hospital for some unfortunate injury. But then I left. And not just me; four people left before the coring started. So that was done very understaffed! And we regularly have problems with the coring. The equipment sometimes breaks! This year would be a challenge...

And it was. I heard later the new barrel (replacing last year's broken one) had broken too. And the spare core we had brought was incomplete. And something had gone wrong with the sections we had managed to core before the barrel packed in. Oh dear! Now what?

Suzie walked into my office, wondering what mood I was in. Oh dear. That promised bad things. Then it came out: would I be willing to aid in somehow getting a core log to the students? We discussed the options. And we settled on me doing a log of the 2016 core, which I hadn't even helped core. I suppose Jaco did the honours that year! And we ask the students to log the sections on an A4 each, and then summarise that all one one A4. If we do this for real, say, on the James Cook, we need some 3 A3s for such a core so doing it on 1 A4 (I would skip the 7 A4s stage) would a bit weird. But the fastest way!

It still wasn't overly fast. I had to go get the core from the cold store. I carried everything in one go! And regretted that. My arms were sore by the time I reached the lab. Then I got my stuff together: core log sheet, pencil, eraser, radio, ruler. And set to work! And let David know I was doing it; he could come in and take a good core pic. And he did!

As it all had to fit on one A4 the writing would have to be small. But still legible! So that sort of meant I had to make the final log digital. That took a fair while too. But then in the end we had a log! And I'm sure it'll come in handy for years to come. And I had rather prepare my lectures but that's the life of a scientist!

20 September 2019

Second year of trying to kill knotweed

The knotweed looked lovely again this year! That clearly meant my (and my stepmother's) attempts last year hadn't quite worked. But it seems you can't get rid of the stuff in one year anyway, so I wanted to just do another round this year and see how things got on. So on a sunny Saturday I filled my evil poison injector again, and headed for the riverbank.

It's not a particularly pleasant job but it's fairly quick. And when I was at it, I tackled some Himalayan Balsam too as it's rampant and it's trying to colonise the garden and I don't want that. And then there are brambles and nettles, which don't make any to this any more comfortable. I came out after the first run (had to stop as my device was empty) with tousled hair (the brambles had grabbed it) with knotweed flowers in it. And some very mild hope. Would this do the job?

After a refill (both the device and me; I myself had some coffee) I went back. I did a whole bunch more. But then before I was done I checked the thing was still working (I regularly do that) and it wasn't. It wasn't pumping anymore! The liquid in the little tube wouldn't move if you pressed the lever. Why is that? It had to be something mechanical but I saw nothing obviously wrong. Oh dear! I'd have to either find out what the problem was, get another one (should be avoided) or give up altogether. I wasn't overly hopeful I'd sort this anyway!

If I can't do this myself I will have to get in professional help. I don't think I can make the council, or Natural Resources Wales, sort this out. And maybe I will indeed go commercial. The weed is not doing any actual harm, but as long as it would be scaring mortgage lenders it's worth getting rid of it. Whoever does it!

Coming in for the kill!

19 September 2019

CELT conference 2019

I had to see my peer guides on the Friday before Welcome Week. That meant I had to come back early from our Laugharne fieldtrip! And that was a bit of a bummer; normally the last full day in Laugharne is coring day, and I would lead the core description. But now they would have to do without me!

We drove off as soon as we could. Just after 9PM we were back in Menai Bridge! So not much later I was back in Bethesda. I wouldn't see my Peer Guides until 1PM but it's a 4 to 5 hour drive; we would have to leave early the next morning in order to be in Menai Bridge on time. And that would be stressy. We would also get a morning rush hour and that would make things worse. So we went the day before! But that meant I could spend the morning on other things. And that other thing was the CELT (Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching) conference. The University organises a teaching conference each year and I always try to go. This time too!

It started with a welcome from some people from higher management. We had a new Vice Chancellor, and the old pro-vice chancellor for teaching and learning would become deputy vice chancellor. And after these words the parallel sessions started. I went to one that contained a talk on employability (and how it is difficult to incorporate it into the curriculum), one on how to get the plagiarism across to students, and one on maths anxiety and what to do about it. Then it was time for coffee.

the new Vice Chancellor speaks

After coffee I went to a session on wellbeing. Both ladies speaking were from the mental health service. They spoke of how not having a mental health problem doesn't mean all is well. You can still be stressed or lonely or both. And that needs tackling too! And they spoke of how foreign students can be hard to reach; there are countries in which every contact you have to a consultant has to be reported to potential employers. I could see why that puts people off!

Then it was lunchtime. I quickly grabbed something and walked out. I had to see my Peer Guides! The Head Peer Guides seemed to have everything under control. I didn't have to do much! But by the time we were done they keynote lecture was well under way. I decided to pop into a computer room to sort out some Peer Guide stuff. And then went back for the rest of the conference.

The next thing on the agenda was a group session where we would discuss various aspects of university strategy: multidiciplinarity, bilinguilism, accessibility, diversity, transitions, employability, wellbeing, and one more. And after that the old pro-VC for T&L gave a final speech and that was it! Time to go back to my computer room and sort out a few more things.

Next year I hope to attend the entire fieldwork, but I think that time we will all be coming back on the Thursday. So I can go again! It tends to be a nice opportunity to pick up some good ideas. And meet some people from other schools!

18 September 2019

Back from Laugharne

I enjoy Laugharne! Fieldwork is fun. And it's nice to live with loads of people for a week or so. Especially these people! I think we're a really harmonious bunch. But being home is nice too. I can do things my own way again! So what is it I do at home which I miss in Laugharne?

My bread machine; no comment needed I think. I haven't bought a single loaf of bread since having bought this thing!

Having dinner at a reasonable hour; in Laugharne, we often eat by the time everyone is ready, and that can be late. And most people eat quite late anyway, even if there is no logistic reason for it. But I don't like dinner being so late you already want to go to bed before dessert is served. It's not nice to have things encroach like that, and going to bed with a freshly filled stomach isn't nice either.

Having smaller dinners; cooking can get a bit competitive and there's always dessert, which I don't do at home. So the food is better than I make it myself, and often you just get a plate in front of you of which you did not control how much was piled on top, so overeating is easy, and then comes dessert. So overeating is VERY easy! And of course you can insist you serve your own plate but I don't like having to fight for that sort of thing. I fight for my right of self-determination regarding what I eat in the context of the ThursdayNighters (as that is not a yearly one-off) and bloody hell is it a drag. It should happen naturally.

Doing my morning routine; in the morning I start with pull-ups, ground exercises, and push-ups. But in the chalet park I have no pull-up bar, and my bedroom tends to be too small to fit other exercises in. And yes I could do them in the living room but I'm still too self-conscious for that. I was already mocked for even saying I do such exercises! Imagine if I actually do them in public. And I know, if I care so much I could just do it and let everyone just have their opinions about it without that affecting me but I'm not yet that zen.

But being in the afore-mentioned company, in a different and pleasant environment, getting my hands on mud and doing more runs than I do at home more than makes up for that!

The landscape around Laugharne

16 September 2019

Laugharne: the end (for me)

I had driven up on Saturday. By Wednesday I could finally do what I had come for! And I had no problem at all at making myself useful as a general person, just talking about the environment, talking about sediment and helping surveying, but doing your own thing just is something different.

In the olden days I had taken samples with the students,  processed them, dried them, picked them, and identified the forams. I then collated the assemblages and gave them back to the students so they could do a proper palaeo-environmental reconstruction with it. But now that it all had to go fast I would just walk them into the field, talk a bit, and then show them artificial samples. They would have to identify the species, and then figure out which environment the samples came from. I was wondering how it would work!

Improvised palaeontology lab

I had enough microscopes for all students. It was a bit cramped though; the table wasn't overly big. And the room the table was in wasn't either. But we made do! When I came out of the field with the students, Suzie had already set up the microscopes, so I could have a flying start. And as usual, some students took to it a lot more than others. Slowly they identified their forams. And thereby their environments! And it worked well!

I had let them gather at 9. We were in the lab by 10.30 or so. And they were done at about 1! I then put the microscopes and accoutrements away, sorted one slide that had been badly glued and lost some forams, and then gave in to my ravenousness and had lunch. Finally!

I did some more computer work while my lunch settled. And when it had settled I went for a nice run. The access path to the coastal path had been strimmed, so I used it to avoid the main road. During earlier versions of the fieldwork I had had to struggle through the brambles and nettles and whatnot and for some reason, all marks left by hostile plants would swell up so much all swellings would grow together and made my legs go all unpleasant. But that was over now! Great!

Curious cattle on my run

The next day I did the same. Both days I had to go into the field with the minibus, which I am not authorised to drive, so I had Stef the lab technician with me. That's always nice! The second day was quite wet so I got back a bit soaking but well, I'm not made of sugar. And this time Stef and I had to set up the microscopes ourselves. Stef can help students with their microscope set-up but not with foram identification. So as soon as they were all set up I was busy! I had one student fewer that day though. And this lot was even more switched on than the previous bunch. One student identified some four environments! And by about one they were done too. But this time, I would leave as soon as I could. So I packed the microscopes away, replaced a crushed foram, and then had lunch again; this would be my hot meal of the day (there were lovely leftovers). And then I did things such as clean the kitchen, empty the bin, pack my stuff, clean my bedroom, help Suzie pack away other equipment we did not need anymore, made sandwiches for in the car (also for Dei) and such things. And did some reading! 

At around five Dei appeared. He first had to sort something scientific out. Then he went up to pack. When he was done we could go! So I made sure I said goodbye to David who was doing things with the drone in the chalet. And when Dei appeared I said goodbye to the others too! And off we were. 

I drove to Aberystwyth. There Dei took over. He drove the rest! And then we were back in the north. It had been an abrupt end to the fieldtrip. I actually hope I can be there until the end next time! And I think my approach works. But let's see how the students do in the final assignment, and what feedback will be...

15 September 2019

Laugharne: the middle

On the Monday, we would all go into the field together. All students, all academic staff, and then two technicians for good measure. It sounded good! The weather forecast didn't, though. Beforehand, the forecast was heavy rain and thunder pretty much the entire day. But when the day came closer things got better. There was still heavy rain forecast, but no thunder anymore, and no rain in the afternoon. So we just packed our waterproofs and went anyway! With thunder we really didn't want to be in the estuary, especially as Martin wanted to deploy some instrumentation fixed to a scaffold pole. Not sure lugging one of those around on a flat area in such a good idea when there's lightning around. We still had to go in the morning, though, as we needed low water and that was at 10AM.

We walked onto the marsh in OK weather. But it started raining at our first stop. We wanted to sample pretty much what I want to sample on my own day out in the field: high marsh, tidal creek, low marsh, mudflat, sandflat. Although now we also wanted to sample the actual channel. I don't bother with that! But we talked the students through how to sample, and how to describe their samples. I reminded them that we would take a sediment core later in the week; it was important they looked at the sediments with an eye on being able to recognise them in that sediment core.

Martin and Suzie contemplate the channel while the students stay in the high marsh

From the salt marsh we went onto the mudflat. That is always funny with a sizeable group! There are always people who are not so good at negotiating these. But we got through without incident. We scooted over without taking samples as we needed to deploy Martin's equipment close to low tide, and we also needed to cross the channel. That's also a low tide thing. The mudflat would remain exposed for a while! So we went to the sandflat where Martin did his spiel. And then we crossed the channel. It was only knee deep! I went with the rolled-up trousers option.

On the way back we took the mudflat sample. That involved so much standing still one student got a bit stuck. It took a while to get hm free, but then we were OK for going back to the vehicles. We were all getting hungry1 And some people were wet and cold. It had been a good morning considering the weather! It had rained for about half the time. And I think we pulled off the Jaco-free sediment day!

Both the weather and the walking conditions got worse! Notice the clump of students tightening their shoe laces in a patch of Spartina.

When we got home I didn't bother with washing the mud off or changing: I had Welcome Week to attend to. The freshers get assigned a Peer Guide, and then freshers and Peer Guides can get in touch with each other and everything starts to come together. As not all peer guides had appeared on the site yet (the allocation is done digitally for the first time this year) I had not wanted to do that before leaving. But people were getting restless so I had to make an executive decision. There was one peer guide still missing! I allocated freshers to all others, and just mailed her students her contact details. That would have to do!

When that was done I took the liberty of updating my blog. I tend to do that over the weekend but I had had no weekend! In the meantime it rained cats and dogs - so much for that dry afternoon.Poor people doing CTD measurements! But it didn't last, and it was dry when I later went for a run. And had a shower. And then went through the surveying information again until it was dinner time. We had bangers and mash! Very British. And after dinner it was soon bedtime. Third day done!

The next morning we were suddenly nine instead of seven: the geophysicists had arrived after I had gone to my chalet. They would join in the surveying, and then do geophysics until the end. So we all got ready in the morning to do a transect, including me, for the first time. I have surveyed lots of marshes before but generally with DGPS, not theodolites! But I am actually more the theodolite person. I like low-tech.

I had a group of three blokes and after Suzie reminded all three groups who had travelled together of surveying basics, we each went to the start of our transect. We started a bit hesitantly; this was new to me (I was only quite comfortable with the theory) and the men hadn't done this for a while; possibly since their first year (they are in third now). But after some sending the man with the staff back and fro for a bit we got into a routine. And we surveyed up to the channel! I tried how deep it was; less than knee deep. Fine! So we even took a measurement in the deepest part of it. And then we measured all the way to the other side. It was nice weather and jumpers came off! On the other side I had a sarnie. I had one with a left-over veggie sausage from the day before, and I added some samphire to it. Very nice!

Surveying the estuary

From the other shore we just walked back without surveying. And the channel was only just above knee deep by then. Easy peasy! And Suzie's group was back at the vehicles at pretty much the same time. And the third group joined soon after. We were good to go back! And then I could fill the afternoon with more freshers stuff (more peer guides on the site, more freshers, inquiries from Head Peer Guides, and whatnot), and some general faffing. And then it was dinner time again! Suzie cooked something lovely. And in Laugharne, after dinner comes bed.

14 September 2019

Laugharne: the start

This would be a strange Laugharne! But a nice one too. I figured. I had to pack during the busy get-everything-ready-for-Laugharne, Welcome Week and the new semester week. And on Saturday morning we would leave! No weekend for me. I drove up to Menai Bridge, had a last toilet visit, and was assigned a nine-seater to transport students in. Soon I had all my seats filled and was on my way!

The drive down was uneventful. As it should be! We unloaded the students, and then unloaded the van that had come separately with all the gear. Then we had a briefing with the students! We were hitting the ground running. Then we made plans for the next day: who would say what on our tour? What time should we start, what time did we have to be back to send four or five students off on a boat to do measurement on conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) in the estuary? And such!

That evening we had pasta made my Martin. It was lovely! But as many Laugharne meals, it was good, too much and rather late. After dinner I quite soon headed off to bed. First day done!

The next day it was lovely weather. I was a bit iffy in the head! I had had an entire pint of lager with dinner and it was a bit much. I am such a lightweight! But nevermind, we crammed everybody into two vehicles and set off. We had three stops: a bridge over the river Taf where we took a sediment sample, a walk to a hilltop above Pendine from which we could see the back-barrier system a lot of the field trip is all about, and a walk to a hilltop juts outside Laugharne itself from which we could see the estuary, which the rest of the field trip is all about. We had a nice agreement in which I would talk about old stuff and Suzie and Martin would talk about newer things. It worked well! Then we stopped for lunch in Laugharne proper. I just ate my left-over sarnies. Then all we had to do was do one change-over of students doing CTD, and then we were ready to take everybody to the supermarket. And this time it was my turn to cook!

I made my own version of Indonesian Fried Rice (with prawn crackers and pisang goreng!) and it went down well. And I dared a half pint. But the day wasn't over yet: I had some studying to do for the next day, when we would go into the field either as sedimentologists (Martin) or pretending to be that (Suzie and me). I think I was done at a quarter past ten! Bedtime. Second day done! And then the next day we would get up close and personal with the estuary...

Looking out over Pendine and the back-barrier system

13 September 2019

Prepare for Laugharne

Every year I attend our field trip in South Wales. It changed quite a lot since the first time! Back then it was some 9 or 10 days, and I would take all students into the field, make them process the samples we had taken, and then have them pick and identify a statistically not-all-too-unrobust assemblage of foraminifera. That sometimes took 14 hours! And I would generally only have one day off. But the budget got tighter and tighter and I was told I had to do something that allowed all students to do my assignment in two days. So I had to rethink it! And make it less work. So the students learn less but it is less heavy on both them and me.

This year would be even more different; firstly, we always used to go in June but now we would go in September, the week before Welcome Week. The students struggled with June as for one thing, they have their exams in early May, and then they couldn't get home and get a summer job until late June. And by the time they would be asked to wok up the data in the new academic year, they would have forgot what they had done in the field. But that did come with shorter days and colder weather. We would see how we would get on!

We also would not have two men that used to always come. One, Colin, had retired, and the other, Jaco, had to be at some conference. So we had to fill in for them! So I had to make sure I was not only prepared for my own assignment, but also for the things that Colin and Jaco used to do. That meant: remind myself of the things we tell the students on the first day, when we take them for a walk at various places in the ares; be ready to survey, and be ready to act as a sedimentologist. I have surveyed a fair bit as a salt marsh sea level scientist, but we used differential GPS; that requires knowledge of the technology, and not so much the old-fashioned technology of dumpy level and staff. And my sedimentology hasn't been used much since my student days. So I had to swot up! But it's always good to either re-learn something or learn something entirely new. It's the perk of a life in academia!

12 September 2019

The package-free shop is moving...

It was only some nine months ago I mentioned we had a package-free shop in town (Menai Bridge)! Everything they sell there I don't buy anywhere else. And they helped me become eco-friendlier with their non-food too; they sell washable sanitary pads (a great alternative to period pants!) and wax wraps you can keep food fresh in. And the bloke who works there is nice. But he's moving to a bigger shop in Caernarfon! And I rarely go to Caernarfon. So I'll miss him! I'll go to the local (Bethesda) food co-op more often now; they sell most of their stuff in compostable material and that's not as good as no packaging but a lot better than plastic.

At least he's not packing up altogether; I already mourned the loss of both the greengrocer (he became a teacher after he did his back in lugging crates full of fruit around) and the baker (dearly missed at the time, but now I have a bread machine) who really left. It's like everywhere else! What survives are the charity shops, takeaways, nail studios and vape shops. A pity!

11 September 2019

Welcome Week imminent

Welcome Week was coming again! It's a monumental week for the freshers for whom it is the first introduction to their life at university. For me it's much less important, but not inconsequential, as I am responsible for it. I don't have to do an awful lot of organisational work, as the support staff of the School does a lot and the Head Peer Guides (HPGs) do too, but still. I feel the responsibility! And the recent years it has become a bit of a drag to keep in touch with the HPGs. They just don't answer if you mail them! And then you just don't know if everything is rolling or not, and I worry.

This year I worried too. It was soon clear we would have a record number of new students. We had had an all-time record the year before, with 178, but this year we would break the 200 barrier. And with increasing pressure on the students, it is increasingly difficult to find Peer Guides. So I would have to give every Peer Guide so many freshers! That would wear them out. And not be nice on the freshers either. But what can you do? We did keep recruiting until the end, as every extra pair of hands is a bonus. But that does mean you don't know until the very end who your Peer Guides will be.

The HPGs were not overly communicative but fortunately, one (out of four) took the lead and sorted things out. He also kept in touch. That was a godsend!

In the end we had 207 new students. And in all likelihood, 22 Peer Guides (one had not appeared on the website a week before Welcome Week but I trust she'll do the job). So 9 or 10 students each! It's a lot. And we'll have to somehow fit them all into one lab to do Induction Day (introduction to the School of Ocean Sciences). It will be daunting! But I hope it will all work out. I'll be busy on the Monday (induction Day), Thursday (beach trip) and Friday (taster lectures). But otherwise I should be free to continue preparing for the start of actual term!

I really hope these high student numbers don't mean the experience is rather diminished for the new students. My Welcome Week still strongly resonates within my life! In a good way! I hope it's the same for them. But hopefully I don't have to worry about that anymore next year!

10 September 2019

Dash to get ready for term

The summer was long! But not long enough. I had an entirely new module to prepare for! And I had to line up all the staff for taking on dissertation students again. I had to sort out all responses to student feedback, and make changes accordingly. I had to revise my lectures (sometimes there is feedback on them) and get the websites for all six modules ready. And I had to sort out the timetable and a proposal for funding for a PhD student and shortlist candidates for it and a million other things and then summer was over. Soon the lectures will start again! And then it'll be running until Christmas. Last year I then had a big pile of marking so I didn't have much of a break over Christmas, and then I was running again until Easter. I hope things will be better this year! I won't end the first term with a pile of essays to mark as they were for a module that isn't taught anymore. That's the module that's being replaced by the new module. So maybe I get a bit of a Christmas break! And I hope that by the time the second semester hits I won't be responsible anymore for Peer Guides, Open Days and Welcome Week. And I really want to make sure next summer I have a bit of a summer! I shouldn't have any new modules to prepare for then (but one never knows) so I really should make sure I have some time off. Just keeping going all year through is not how I want to live my life!

09 September 2019

Waste-free menstruation: how I got on

Buying a Mooncup is one thing. Using it is another! It's quite different from using tampons. So how did I like it? Don't read this if you don't like reading about menstrual blood!

My first waste-free period took a bit of getting used to. I had done the usual thing of not really reading the instructions of the Mooncup. I just shoved it in and pulled it out! And the former went fine. The latter; not so much. It vanished deep into my body and I struggled to get a firm grip on the stem. And pulling it out took some force! That's not necessarily pleasant. But then I read the instructions again, and found out the recommended position for removing the thing is crouching, and that if it's in too deep you can use you local musculature to push it down a bit. I'm not good at pushing, but the crouching helped. And I was reminded that you're supposed to pop it to break the vacuum. (It's not a vacuum, of course, but you know what I mean.) So when that penny had dropped things got easier.

The Modibodi pants were quite self-explanatory. You just wear them! I had wondered a bit about washing them, but you are recommended to rinse them after use, let them dry, and then pop them in the laundry. Works fine!

I didn't buy more, though; I found washable sanitary pads in the local plastic-free shop. And that's the more efficient way of going about things! Why buy entirely new pants if you can just buy an insert? They work fine! So with these two products together I'm sorted.

I had wondered a bit about washing the Mooncup. Most loos don't have a sink in the cubicle! But you can bring a squirty bottle with you. And some toilets do have a sink right there, and not behind some door. Our new building does! And in nature it works too; North Wales is full of water. And if I deem it clean enough to drink I deem it clean enough to rinse my cup with. I'm not emptying the cup in streams others might drink from, in case you were wondering. I've only emptied it on the moors once and I found a lovely drippy cliff with a swampy bit underneath. Perfect!

I one managed to badly insert the cup, causing it to leak, but I was wearing a pad as well as I wasn't certain of things. So I just tried again and all was well. I'm sold on this! No looking back here...

07 September 2019

Doors coming thick and fast

Phil the Joiner had said he'd just put one door in and then see how I liked it and how much he'd charge for the others. So I had no idea when he would actually finish it! But the first door came in on a Wednesday. On the Thursday he had done the master bedroom and the bathroom too. And on Friday he had done the upstairs doors. He was going like the clappers! On Saturday we spoke on the phone and he said he would do the last two on Monday. So in only six days it will all have been done! And when I say 'all' I mean 'all the physical hanging of the doors'. I have been running after the joiner, touching up the paint on the affected door frames. With mixed results! In spite of me taping the hinges I got paint on every single one of them so far. I blame the uneven surfaces that the tape struggles to evenly adhere to. I only managed to get it off again if it had been white paint spilled. The green is still there! Oh well. And I haven't done the upstairs doors yet, or the doors in varnished frames as I still have to go and buy some varnish.

I'm happy with my doors, paint on the hinges or not! And they look gorgeous in the old part of the house and gorgeous but slightly out of place in the extension. And now I can close all doors! Which can be quite nice. A big step in the doing up of the house is taken!

The bedroom and bathroom are done too now! 

The doors on the top floor

Office door

How the joiner managed with the narrow door frame at the bottom of the kitchen door; just dig into the wall!

06 September 2019

Lots of mines (and consumption) with the Cornish

If you love mountains and mines, and you are UK-based, and you are not living in Snowdonia, you are probably visiting it sometimes.Both the PCG and the YCC tend to travel up here! And two of the Cornish chaps I did my best trips with back in the southwest come up periodically too. And then they drop me a line! We've been down a lead mine, a mixed mine, a slate mine, and up a rather cold hill. And suddenly I got the call again. They would be coming!

I had a thought. They like both mountains and mines, and I had never been to Lliwedd Copper mine. I asked if they had been. They hadn't! So I had a plan. It combines both. A good mountain walk and industrial archaeology! I asked about when they wanted to do it and they said they'd get back to me. But it became Friday and I still didn't know. I started nagging. And it was almost 10PM when I had them on the phone. If you want to do Lliwedd it's best doing that from the start of the Watkin path, and in a weekend in summer the parking there runs out pretty early. But it turned out they had already done, but just not remembered the name. And they were knackered after driving up through awful traffic. So we wouldn't get up at silly o'clock to get a parking space at one of the Snowdon paths. We would just make it up!

I drove up in the morning and found (in two attempts) their cottage. It was very snug! And we made plans over coffee. And we figured we'd do some slate. They hadn't done Cwt y Bugail. And if we were there anyway, we could do the top of Rhiwbach (the surface works) too. It's around the corner! And then maybe do Foel Gron on the way back. None of them are big but with all three we should be sorted for a while!

We set off. The men did not know about the tiny road to Manod! The map doesn't show it as a navigable road, but it sure is. We parked up and went to Cwt y Bugail. It's on the map for everyone to see but they had never really noticed. And it was a lovely day for it! It had been bucketing down while I drove to the chaps' accommodation but now it was sunny. And we had a thorough stroll in there! They were positively surprised; there was more than they had expected. We also did the wet bits so much wringing out of socks followed.

Cwt y Bugail from a distance

Pretty tunnel

Mike and Daz

Funkily shaped entrance

The pit, with Cornishmen for scale

We then walked to Rhiwbach. We admired the incline and the mill. And walked around to the pit. Would there be anything going underground there? We scampered all around the small pond and found one that was not easily accessible (maybe some free climbing would get us there) and one that was accessible. Nice! Bonus! It didn't go far; it lead to a level with two side levels but all of that was either a dead end or run in after between two and some ten meters. But more than nothing! And we found a nice rock with stitch drilling in there.

On the way back to the car Mike noticed an adit by the side of the path. We went in! It was only one tunnel with no side tunnels or anything like that. And it was quite wet again! More wringing out of socks.

Tips below the mill

Stitch drilling

We changed back into dry stuff at the van. And set off towards Foel Gron! I had misremembered where it was but I recognised it when I saw it. So we changed back into our wet gunk and walked up. We left the wet bottom adit. But we did do the wet bits inside! And after we had seen what there was to see underground we walked up. We found no more entrances but surface workings are nice too. And I am particularly fond of the empty landscape there! The men were too. But then it was time to go home.

Nice winch

Daz in the milky water

The spoil heaps in the otherwise largely empty landscape

We changed once again and headed for Betws-y-Coed via Penmachno. Mike took the sneaky route past the mill. I had never driven that! And we stopped to admire the waterfall, as far as you could see that from that side ot the river (the 'official' viewing platform is on the other side). But then we went on! We were getting peckish. And we went to the Royal Oak for dinner. It was very busy but we found an outside table. I got quite nervous from the crowds! I don't like crowds. But it wouldn't be any better anywhere else (I thought) so we stayed. But the men were the ones to go in and order!

We also discussed the day after. We had plenty of time as the kitchen forgot our order (we got our money back). And the men were keen to do a trip near me. So I showed them on the map where it is. And suggested they pop over for dinner afterwards! That's nice and that way I can show them my house. And then I left! They still had drinks but it was getting late, and I couldn't drink any more as I was driving. And I would see them the next morning anyway!

The next morning I did my normal morning routine. And in the weekend that can include a run. And it did! Of course the men knocked on my door just when I came out of the shower. And my towel isn't big enough to maintain my decency! I slipped into a dress as quickly as I could and opened the door. They were a bit surprised; they had never seen me wear a dress. But they got ready for their trip. And I went back to my chores!

When they came back we had a beer in the garden until we were chased out by the midges. They could really see why I love this house (and its accoutrements) so much! And then we had dinner. And they were fascinated by one of my books about the Welsh slate industry. I have the Welsh language version but they have now already ordered the English version!

By about nine we were all yawning and we said goodbye for probably another year. I'm sure they'll be back! They haven't seen everything yet. And there are also always more mountains to climb. And I don't think they mind a beer in my garden! And I sure don't either!

04 September 2019

Dig with a detour

After the difficult session in the dig we would be back! I was a bit apprehensive as we had stopped the last time when all that we thought we could safely bring down had been brought down. So what would we do now? But we had to postpone that decision as due to unforeseen circumstances, the drill was elsewhere in the mine. Quite far away, actually! So we had to go down five levels, walk to pretty much the far end of the mine, pick up the drill, walk back, ascend five levels, walk back to pretty much the far end of the mine again (but on a different floor) and descended a level elsewhere. And only then could we start!

I prodded a bit and figured out there were three rocks I was happy drilling a hole in. So I started on the first one! It was even recorded as Miles had been asked to send in some extra footage of drilling and charging and such things for the Hidden Wales programme. Then we swapped and Miles started on the second one. That one split under the pressure, so we crowbarred it out of the way. Then he drilled a hole in the third rock. All that is also on metaphoric tape. But by then we had to charge them and skedaddle! Time flies if you are scampering through the depths and widths of a big mine. No time to add a second hole to the third rock! So we did rig it and went down. We had to detonate with the drill battery as we had forgot to bring the actual detonator. I don't think we look very professional!

We then went out. For the first time this season we came out into full darkness. Summer is coming to an end! And next time we'll see if our modest blast has given us somewhere to safely continue digging again!

03 September 2019

To the Archives

My house is quite old. But how old? The oldest mention I found in the documentation that came with the house was from the 1880s. But that was in the context of it being in someone's will. It could have been there for centuries before that! In theory. And online old maps tended not to go back further than the 1880s so I knew I would need to look elsewhere to find out. And the place to go would be the county archives in Caernarfon.

One day in August I decided to just go. If not now, then when? Soon term would hit. So I drove up and walked in. There was a desk with two people who were willing to help. A man jumped up and pulled out an old OS map. It was on there! I knew that. The oldest OS map they had was from the 1880s. So their maps wouldn't tell me much. But they had census data! He showed me how to find what I was looking for. Soon we had found the house in the 1901 census. It had a mother and daughter in! At least, I think it did. I know the house number has changed (from 14 to 13) at some point, but I don't know when. But I noted down who lived in the adjacent houses so as soon as I pin down the number change I know for sure.

The County Archives

Then I looked in the 1891 census. That was fairly straightforward! With the same disclaimer as in 1901, it looked like it them housed a couple and a lodger. Success! Next: 1871. And again: success! A couple with a lodger. So the house was already there! I figured as much. This was going well! 1861 here I come.

There trouble started. The census is done by parish, and every parish is subdivided into districts. They change these every time. My house is in the parish of Llanllechid; I suppose as that village is a lot older than Bethesda, which nowadays has pretty much eaten it. And that parish had 14 or 15 districts back then; four were missing, and I think my street was in one of these. Bummer!

In 1851 I was glad to find the High Street in the census data. Page after page of High Street. So if the High Street was already there, my house probably was too. It would make sense building that area up in one go. But that's no more than a guess! So I was disappointed when then the street names vanished. Altogether! So maybe the house was there. Maybe not. Impossible to tell from this record!

In 1841 Bethesda was mentioned as a 'hamlet' and no street names were given at all. So probably the house was no there then! Which gives me the working hypothesis that the house was built between 1841 and 1851. But I will have to come back and check things such as tithe maps to verify that hypothesis. I hope to find out more! And I should also make an overview of the information I have in my own archive. As is, it's just a pile of paper, and that's not helping. I should have an overview of inhabitants, changes in address, area (addition of the garden, for instance) or things like that, and even price would be cool to record. More to do on this topic! And I'm sure it'll take a while but that's OK. The house has been there for at least 150 years (yes I only have evidence of 148 years but I'll take that bet) so hurrying things might be in character with the nature of the quest!