31 May 2020

First food from the garden

It started in the first weekend of lockdown. I sowed my first vegetables! And from then on I have been steadily tending to my vegetable seedlings. Watering them, spacing them out, moving them outside, sowing more, moving them back in again in the case of the butternut squash, goading the peas into holding on to the provided sticks and not each other, giving up on them (leek), and whatnot. And most is growing nicely. But the end goal was: food! By late May I had still not eaten anything. And then I saw a pea pod on one of my plants. Yay! Peas! I ate that one raw. Was lovely! An after the first one, many followed. They started flat and I should wait until they are a bit more cylindrical. But it looks like I may soon have my first meal out of my own garden!

And the rest? The spinach is slowly growing and one day may be big enough for a meal too. But a small meal. The carrots keep their edible parts (if any) hidden underground. The cabbage is growing well. I have chard seedlings. Some potato plants appeared rather unexpectedly; I had planted some in the first spring but the weeds must have out-competed them. The aubergine plants are still very small. The butternut squash is still recovering from cat mayhem. And the courgette plants are starting to flower; this could be the early start of quite a lot of food!

And there is bonus: last year I planted two walnut trees and there's something budding! I might get my first nuts too this year... 

The first pea pod to appear!
The first pea pod to appear!

More soon followed


30 May 2020

Long bike ride again

About a month ago I went on a fairly long bike ride. And then that was outlawed! And it seems now that only weeks later that was reversed again. I tend to keep an eye on the lockdown rules but I had missed that one. Maybe because I get a lot of information from radio 4 and the newspaper, and these are a bit England-centric. But I'm glad I found out late rather than not at all. And I had only gone out on one bike ride in the meantime; one run resulted in a bit of a complaining left calf, and I decided to give it a bit of a rest. So the next day, I did a short bike ride, through Mynydd Llandegai and Rachub. It was a busy day so I wouldn't have biked far anyway, even if I would have known it would have been allowed! And I think it did the calf good. I was OK running again two days after the funny feeling occurred.

View on the Carneddau from Mynydd Llandegai

Cute little lane

During the week I'm not likely to bike very far, but when the weekend came and it was allowed again to bike a fair distance, it was time to enjoy that! Even though I could run again, it was time to venture a bit further from home. So I decided to bike to Capel Curig. I had driven that so many times but never biked it. I don't think I'd be keen in normal times; it's a locally important traffic artery and people often drive quite fast on it. But nowadays the roads are empty!

I set off on my old bike. Flasks and sandwiches in the bag. And a puncture kit. And I first took the old road to Ogwen Cottage. And from there on there is no choice: you need the A5. But it's delightful! Barely any traffic. And from Llyn Ogwen it's basically all downhill. What did strike me, though, was the police activity. There were two or three cars parked up at the foot of Tryfan. And a police car was there too! I think telling people to sod off. Why would you park there other than go climb Tryfan, which is not allowed?

When I stopped to take a layer off I saw the police had created a roadblock right behind me. They were clearly checking! But it's a bank holiday, and the English are already free to travel. So I can imagine why! And I saw another police car and a police motorbike on the road as well. I didn't know we had so many of them. And when I got to Capel Curig and got off the road to park my bike, I found out I had a police car right behind me who seemed to have been intent on stopping me. He didn't need to now! He got out of the car and asked me where I had come from and was going to. They really are keeping an eye on where people are going! But my Bethesda-Capel Curig-Bethesda plan was met with approval.

With that sorted I parked my bike, walked into a field, and had my lunch. That was nice! And then I biked back. It's not steep so it was a leisurely ride. And just for the heck of it I went the entire way along the A5. That way I could judge how steep it was! I might sometimes want to bike the A5 to get to the start of a walk, when that sort of stuff is allowed again, and then it's nice to know how steep that route is. And it's ok! So I could see myself walk Ogwen Valley before too long! That will be nice... 

From just outside Capel Curig

Tryfan comes into view

The path to Tryfan. On the way back, I saw no cars there! The police action had helped.

29 May 2020

Classic book again; a Welsh one this time

For some people, lockdown is an excellent time to finally get through their 'to read' list. Not for me though! I read even less the normal. The culprit is my new working schedule; I used to do my work at home, and only rarely fire up my laptop in the evening. So after dinner I often had a bit of time to read! But now I tend to start a bit early, work until 4 or 5 PM, then go for a run and a shower, and then often straight into the kitchen. And then after dinner some more work waits. By the time I stop that not much of the evening is left! I suppose I am lacking in discipline when it comes to keeping work and leisure balanced and separated. I might have to work on that. But either way; it took a long time but I finally finished another book. And it is a classic! I had already read 'Un nos ola leuad'; often seen as the best Welsh language book ever. And it's about Bethesda too. But if you dig a bit deeper into Welsh literature you quickly find another book: Traed Mewn Cyffion ('feet in shackles') by Kate Roberts. She was seen as 'the queen of literature' and this is often quoted as her best book. My Welsh tutor Jenny said it was boring so I thought I'd give it a go. I like books in which not much happens! And it didn't disappoint, even though you could argue a lot happens. 

The book starts in 1880 with a young woman who has moved to somewhere not too far from here (the author grew up in Rhosgadfan, so that may be where this is set) from the Llyn peninsula. She's just married a local quarryman. And then you follow her over the decades. They have six children, and the quarry work is fraught with issues. It's dangerous, badly paid, subject to the whims of the foremen and in the course of the book, activity is dwindling. It's not easy to keep the family running. Most of the book is from the perspective of the woman it all starts with, but from when the kids are a bit older, they sometimes take over as narrator.

You don't get a very clear idea of the marriage of the main character. The husband seems a bit taken for granted. The children get more attention, and they are a mixed bag! There is the eldest daughter who goes to sewing school and from there into domestic service. She is not one to get much attention. 

There is the oldest son who, after school, starts work in the quarry too. That's him out of the way; he leaves early and comes home late, and is then so knackered his siblings barely get to interact with him. He later moves south to work in the coal fields there. 

The second daughter gets a lot more attention. She is a bit rebellious. She hangs out with posh boys from town. This doesn't make her popular with her parents! And that leads to her then spending a lot of time with her grandmother instead. And when that grandmother then dies, it's not her son who inherits the modest amount of money, but her. And she promptly marries one of the posh boys and is off. Her relatives can drop dead! 

Karma is at work in tortuous ways, though; she has a child, and when it still is small, the posh boy does a runner. And there she is, with no income. She sells off her last possessions and starts sewing for a living. The kid moves in with the family his mother has abandoned. 

There's also the second oldest son. You see quite some of the book through his eyes. He does well in school and gets a scholarship for further education. He becomes a school teacher. It pays the bills but not much more than that. 

The youngest son does well in school too. He also gets a scholarship! It's not clear if the family can afford to do anything other than send him off to work so he can supply the family income. But school it is. Until the war breaks out and he volunteers for the army. Of course he gets shot. More misery for the family.

The book ends with the second youngest son being all pensive and gloomy. And the cat being oblivious to it all. A generation of struggle in the North Wales countryside. And is anything looking up?

Don't read classic Welsh literature if you're looking for a hoot! I don't think these slate hills have grown that sort of literature. But it was interesting to read. The language wasn't easy; it was written in the thirties. But aside from the language, it felt very current. Not quite literally; things have changed. Girls rarely go to sewing school (do they still exist?). Few people work in slate quarries. Maybe what I mean is that even though the setting was mainly the Victorian age, and the language is dated, the characters could have been written yesterday. I enjoyed it! I think I will re-read this. But maybe now something more recent to not make the Welsh harder than necessary!

28 May 2020

Having a psychologist on call

When you are a university lecturer your main job, I suppose, is teaching specialist skills. And the second one is teaching general academic skills. Or the other way around? Well, not relevant for this post. And then, increasingly, it's the somehow supporting students with mental health issues so they have the mental reserves to even get to these general academic skills. It's a stressful world and the students are feeling it! Fortunately, the university supports us; we have a mental health team, and they provide mental health training. But sometimes you can do with more than they can offer. And I am fortunate. I have a sister who's a clinical psychologist!

Some time ago I was trying to coach a student with known issues towards submitting a piece of work before the deadline. And it was a bit of a bumpy ride! And pandemics can make a situation that was already difficult even more complicated. And one morning I woke up to a rather worrying email from said student, that had been sent in the middle of the night, with the deadline being the noon after. Oh dear! I was glad I had my sister. I immediately asked her for advice! And I got a crash course in the mental health issue in question.

I had actually read an entire book about this kind of issue, but there is quite the difference between having read a book and knowing what to do. And how did that book happen? Well, my sister sometimes wants to order books from companies that don’t deliver to Finland. Then she has them delivered to me, and they then find their way to her. And this one caught my attention, and I read it before I passed it on.

Did all that effort help respond to that email in an optimal way? I don't know! The student did submit on time, but I'll probably never know if my assisted response had anything to do with that. Quite possibly not! But I was still good to have that help at hand. I think I said it before; we're hired on the basis of our academic skills, but sometimes what's needed is completely different things! I am so lucky to have back-up.

I did get feedback from the student, and it was heart-warming! It seems I made a difference. With help. Thank you my sister, and hurray to the student. You didn’t let anything stop you from writing that (substantial) piece of work! I take my hat off for that!

27 May 2020

Exam period

We had the first online exam period ever! And how did it go? Well, my personal experiences are modest! I am currently module organiser on three second semester modules, and one of them is the dissertation module so that doesn't have an exam. And I teach the majority of one other module, so I have loads of exam questions, but that is a first year MCQ exam. You don't need to mark these! Computers can do that. So that was sorted. So only two exams to mark! And they were in modules with small class sizes.

How did we do it? We basically released the exams at a set time and gave the students 24 hours to complete them. They had been told to sit them like 'normal' exams, but then on a computer. So no Googling or phoning a friend or any of that. But could we check that? Well, no!

So how did it go? Well, mixed bag! It started out with a bit of confusion on who would prepare the MSc level exam: the module leader or the exams officer, but we sorted it without any students seeming to be bothered. Good! And as this was new I wanted to make sure the students were actually there doing the exams. The one exam went swimmingly. The other one had two students who hadn't accessed the exam after a few hours. One had logged issues online. The other one was a Chinese student and I suspected they were in China and therefore in a completely different time zone from the campus. And after a while they let me know all was well. I think my guess was right!

All marking is done now. And the results? Well! Of course there was a bit of a range in the grades. There always is! It's not a good exam if there isn't. But were there issues? Well, there were some suspiciously similar answers but the plagiarism officer didn't think it was serious enough to merit measures.

So what do I think? Well it did work! Yes we can't be sure the students weren't on the phone with each other. But given that face-to-face teaching was suspended mid March and the exams started in late April, we had to think of something fairly fast. And a pandemic is likely to bring sub-ideal circumstances. And then you get sub-ideal exams. I think we did OK considering circumstances! And in June we will have meetings in which we will discuss all this. I wonder how different this year will be with respect to the previous few years. I hope not too much!

26 May 2020

Save the neighbour by buying drinks

When lockdown happened, Neuadd Ogwen closed. It had to! And we're already two months in. No sign yet of when it can re-open. But it's a multipurpose building; it does film and theatre and yoga and gigs and market and whatnot, but it also has a bar. And the stock was sitting there, gathering dust. And I suppose they now decided it could be any time before they could re-open, and there was little point in waiting until their stock would reach its 'best before' date. And it's foodstuffs, so you can sell them! So they did a usual friday-from-four-to-six thing. Not on the parking lot this time, but from their own premises. I ordered six regional beers. At then end of the day they advertised what was still available, and then I ordered some alcohol-free beers too. These hadn't shifted so well! But they're quite up my street. I'm now such a lightweight I rarely manage an entire pint (of alcohol-containing beer) in a day. And it's the alcohol; not the volume of fluid. With hot water I can drink almost anyone under the table! So now I'll have a good stock of beer I can just glugg away, and Neuadd Ogwen has money, rather than perishables. And then everybody wins!

Most of my regional beers

25 May 2020

Into deep time

I was keen when I found out that I would have an MSc student. And we had a project ready! With sampling foraminifera from the local sea floor and all that. But when the pandemic hit, we had to reconsider, and we decided to go move the project topic 55 million years back. As you do! I had never worked on that time period, with the weirdest climate event ever if you ask me, myself. I lecture about it as it is a weird climate event. But as I have to supervise this chap I had to make sure I was all informed on the details too. So I read up on it. He is studying the differences in how the event is expressed in the assemblages of benthic foraminifera in two locations; one on what is now east coast USA, and another one in Italy, which then was in the shallow part of an ocean. Not everyone realises it but the Mediterranean is, in a way, an almost-vanished ocean. Africa and Europe have just moved so close to each other now there's not much left! But it was a proper scale big deal in its day. And 55 Ma ago it still was to be taken seriously.

So we have two locations at noticeably different latitude, longitude, configuration of continents and oceans, water depth, and whatnot; so how different was it? It's mightily interesting if you ask me! So I have been having a blast reading up on it. Forams! My specialism often vanishes in the more general teaching things like essay writing and the pedagogy of assessment and teaching of other things such as glaciology and evolution. But here I have a chance again to ponder forams. Such modest creatures; unicellular, and not even animals (they're protists), but still, the messengers from a time that long ago. Easy to remember why I fell for them in the first place!

A fossil bird (Primobucco) from around that time. Pic from Smithsonian Institution. 

24 May 2020

Food supplements

I don’t eat meat and I feel fine. I must admit I didn't think much beyond that. Well, I thought about iron; vegetarians can get a bit deficient and I have been known to be refused for donation by the blood bank. So sometimes I take supplements to sort that out! But I had my sister on the phone and she warned me about vitamin B12. And I then had a bit of a google. And I agreed I probably was well advised to increase my intake. Unless you eat unholy amounts of marmite, you might not get your recommended dose if you don't eat meat. And I do eat marmite but in modest amounts. And I do consume milk and that gets me quite far along the way, but better to be safe. So I ordered some supplements!

A few days later they appeared. Two tubs of B12 and one of folic acid. The tubs surprised me. You could fit all the B12 pills in one tub ten times over. And folic acid? I hadn't ordered that. I pondered sending it back but it seemed a bit much faff for a few pounds of supplement. I'll keep it! I associated the stuff with pregnant women and I am not one, but some more googling revealed we all need the stuff and using a supplement is not likely to do any harm. So now I have vitamin B12 and folic acid with my breakfast! I don't expect to notice the difference, but I do hope that I avert changes taking place in the future due to NOT taking these...

23 May 2020

Welsh presentation on repeat

Jenny will kick me in the bum until I have all the Welsh qualifications that are out there. I can't currently go up for my 'Tystysgryf Sgiliau Iaith', due to the pandemic situation, so she moved her focus; since me getting my 'Welsh in the workplace' level 6 they had invented level 7. And quite unlike the authority that deals with the TSI, they believe in exam conditions at home, so these qualifications are still handed out. So she figured I should do that! And I was fine with that. It had to be done a bit differently from normal; it would involve a written component which I would evidently have to do at home. They would just open an assignment for me and I would have to complete it within one and a half hour. I assume they figure that won't be enough time to cheat considerably!

The other components is talking to people. In normal times, that would be some in person, and some on the phone; now all that was via Teams, of course. So I had a chat with a colleague, one with a lady form Welsh class who works at university too, and one with a tutor. And then I needed to do a presentation with Q&A session. And I had, of course, already done something like that for the aforementioned Tystysgryf. And Jenny figured she may be able to recycle that! I figured I would use the same slideshow but present it to a different audience. I got ready for that.

When the day came, it turned out they had already seen the slides; Jenny had access to them, and sent them around. So they didn't want me to present them again. All I had to do was answer questions! That meant I wasn't prepared in the best way but hey ho. I think it went OK! It's always easier to do a presentation; then you know what you want to say so you can make sure you know all the vocabulary involved. If people ask questions you have no idea what these will be about. They may steer the conversation in a direction you never saw coming!

Now I need to do one more conversation and the written exam; then all I can do is wait for the results!

Slide from the presentation

22 May 2020

Another weekend walk

I like going for a weekend walk! My running route is stunning but it's a rather paved way. It's nice to go a bit closer to the middle of nowhere once a week! And this week I decided to go into Cwm Pen Llafar. I had been in February, but I was sure it would feel different in mid May. So I went! And on a good day you can do that route almost without touching town, but a few footpaths are closed, so I had to come through Gerlan to get to the start. So be it.

I walked into the valley. It was lovely! And I had a coffee in Cwmglas bach. And then I did something new; I crossed the river and went back on the other side, past Braich y Brysgyll. The valley on that side has a rather flat shoulder, so it looks quite negotiable, but I had never been. And it was lovely! Wide empty vistas. And I first found nothing, and then some faint sheep trails, and then a quadbike track. Comfortable going!

I had lunch in the shelter of a big stone. And then followed the track until it went into a field. That wasn't a public footpath, and I knew the map had some there, but I wasn't sure if that meant there was really something there. And I also figured farmers would be welcoming walkers a bit less than normal, so I decided to just cross to the other side of the valley, to the path going up Cwm Caseg. And I did! It looked like an exercise that could be tricky in wet periods, but this wasn't one. The views on yr Elen were amazing from there.

Another corner of the Carneddau explored. What's next?

Just outside town; field with Kiss-fan sheep

Bog cotton


yr Elen from Afon Caseg

21 May 2020

Project 10k

I haven't run a race in a while! Which is a pity; I like racing. But it basically just means you run a certain distance and check how long it took you. I can do that by myself! So after a while I decided I should design a 10k route, and regularly run it, and see if I'm getting faster. And I have an app that allows me to do that: footpath. And it turned out that, very conveniently, the bicycle path I do my standard runs on, and which then turns into a very quiet road, had a farm at exactly 5 km from my house. So there and back is my route! So I try to run that at least once every fortnight now. And I'm not very fast. I really feel the difference between race conditions and this. I suppose to a certain extent because with a race, I tend to make sure I have eaten the right amount of food the right amount of time before the start. And now I just go when it sort of fits between lunch and dinner. Mainly it's just the adrenaline, caused by the sense of occasion and competition,  and the other runners and the audience and such. I don't get that here. So I am deadly slow! But so be it. That means I can shave lots off the time. I have now run it in 75, 67 and 69 minutes. Normally I stay well within the hour! My 10 race times on a 10k so far were:

56, 51, 50, 56, 52, 71, 48, 46, 49, and 73 minutes

In this list, 71 and 73 were the Scott Snowdonia races, and 48 and 46 the Bangor 10k. The difference is partly that the Scott race has a LOT of vertical, and also bits where you just really have to watch your feet as the path is uneven and can be slippery. The Bangor 10 doesn't go up and down much, and is all on well-paved roads and paths.

This shows I am about as slow during the Scott Snowdonia race. And that has much more vertical! That's the adrenaline there... And the sub-hour times were mostly road races. And my route is almost all on a well-paved path, but I have to go through seven gates (twice) and I have one bit which is a cut-off on a very steep slope. That's not runnable either up or down.

And the last difference is: if during my home-made 10ks, if I bump into people I know I have a chat! That 75 minutes time I did while bumping into both the neighbour and his dog, and a colleague I hadn't seen since leaving the office. I don't know how many minutes that took but a fair few I think! I did the 67 minute time when I met no acquaintances. Would I manage a sub-hour time before the end of lockdown? Stay tuned!

The beautiful farm that is my turning point 

Not sure if this comes across on a pic but this is my steep bit!

20 May 2020

Growing flowers from seed

I'm still working on making the front of the house look good! And about half of that effort is a bit of a long term project as I am growing the flowers from seed. One week I sowed a flowering perennial mix, night phlox, and lobelias; after a week I had lots of perennial seedlings while the single species beds were still thinking about it. Everything stands in the conservatory so they are rather protected. And a week later the named flowers were starting to hesitantly emerge, while the mixed flowers were doing their growing thing at their faster speed. And then I also planted some nasturtium. I hope all that will grow up soon! I don't think I've done this before but it's fun. And quite a la mode, I think. I'm sure some flowers will greatly help with how cheerful and well-groomed the front of my house will look...

Two generations of sowed flowers 

Close-up of the mixed flowers

Close-up of the phlox

19 May 2020

Evening walk

My normal rhythm is: do a walk on one weekend day, and run the rest of the days. But one day I got carried away behind my computer and when I looked up it was too late to go for a run before I would have my weekly dinner party with the Dutch. So I had to bin the run! But I did want to get my exercise, or at least some fresh air, so after dinner I went for a small walk around Moel Faban. And I caught a lovely sunset! That was very nice. I wouldn't have seen that if I would have gone on my normal afternoon run. So good outcome after all!

The sunset

Me enjoying it

18 May 2020

Lockdown noticeable on blog

When lockdown started, I thought that would be it for my blog, at least for a while! What to write about? But that's not what happened. Life profoundly changed and there was much to reflect on! I often had so much ready that I sometimes didn't quite know what to do with it all. I think it happened a few times it lagged by a bit more than a week. Normally I avoid that! And I think I only once posted twice on one day. But I think now, after eight weeks, it's finally catching up with me. Yesterday I had nothing ready and I skipped a day, which is in itself fine, but a lockdown first! I suppose the restrictions are so tight that one runs out of things to say even if one doesn't need much encouragement. And now I'm turning not having something to say into something to say. But soon we'll get out of the marking period and then I suppose I will have a lot to say about our attempts at becoming distance learning experts...

 Arbitrary pic of pretty flowers in my garden

16 May 2020

Clarity in Wales; confusion in England

A long, long time ago, Boris Johnson noticed there was a pandemic going on. There was some testing and tracing. And then that was abandoned. And people were free to travel around. Mass events like horse racing, football matches and pop concerts still happened. And then, only days later, Johnson suggests people should socially distance. If that was a good idea then, then were events with tens of thousands of people crammed together only days before a good idea? One thinks not. And to make it worse, he advised people to not go to bars and restaurants without ordering them closed. That is just not consistent. If they are allowed to be open, they will attract clientele. What is the point of having a restaurant open if there are no diners in it? And then, on a Friday at around 5pm, he suddenly ordered such places to close by the next day. No warning, no chance to change to takeaway, no chance to have people eat whatever food had been ordered in. And then a few days later, we went into full lockdown.

The entire UK had been in lockdown for six weeks. And that did stop the increase in the spread of the virus. But it came with disadvantages, of course! Many people's livelihoods were put on hold. Nobody could visit people that lived further than walking distance away, and only at distance. People did not see their elderly parents or struggling friends or any of that. People died alone. It's obvious why people want a situation like that to not continue longer than necessary! But lifting a lockdown is not something to be taken lightly.

Scotland, Wales and northern Ireland have decided it's too early to lift much. Here in Wales we can now go out for exercise more than once a day, and garden centres are allowed to reopen. Otherwise everything stays the same.

In England, though, they have now changed the 'stay at home' slogan to 'stay alert'. What does that mean? The police have said they can't police it, the public have said they don't know what he means, epidemiologists point out that alertness doesn't protect from viruses. So what are the English going to do?

They are supposed to go to work, if they can't work at home. But not get there using public transport. That runs anyway. And if they use it they should turn away from other people. Even though the thing about public transport is that quite often, there are people on all sides. If you have a car you're ok of course, but in cities, who has a car? And will employers pressure people to get back to work? People on precarious contracts won't be able to say no. The people that may need to come by public transport.

And kids can go to school, even though deaths per day now are much higher than they were when they closed. And teachers can now go into a school with tens of kids, but not catch up with their own grandchildren. They can see one at 2m distance, but if the kid is rather small, it can't operate alone. And you can't see a grandchild plus a child. Two people is too much! Even in the open air and with 2m in between. But tens of children in a school is fine.

And you can work with your colleagues but not go see them in a park. And there may be obligatory quarantine for people coming into the country, but not yet, and only some countries. So if you come in from, say, the USA, you can just travel through France and then it's OK (although I heard on the radio this may be reconsidered). It makes no sense whatsoever! I agree that one day people will need to go back to work. You can't forever have only home-working people, and some select people like medical professionals, supermarket workers and waste collectors, work. And you can't keep families, friends and lovers separate forever either. It wouldn't work! But I don't think that issuing self-contradictory and completely arbitrary policies is the answer. This looks like the government just wants the economy back on track, will allow everything that facilitates that, and keep banning everything else. Can't visit grandma and she dies alone? No problem. Factory not working? Problem! And if people then die they just say these were not alert enough.

It was interesting to see that Johnson had announced he would make an announcement on a Sunday evening. The first ministers of the devolved nations decided not to wait for that. Some reporters questioned that; I heard Wales' first minister Mark Drakeford answer that with the dry remark that he would reassess the situation every three weeks; the three weeks were up and he would make his announcements. What Johnson did was his business. Rightly so. I am increasingly glad I fall within the realm of Drakeford! I wouldn't wish Johnson on anyone, although it would be rude to not wish him onto the people who voted him, but here I am selfishly happy that the person making decisions about my life is a sensible Labour politician. And is it ideal that the various nations now do different things? Well, no, but if they do anyway I'm happy I'm on the Welsh side...

15 May 2020

Walk south

Another weekend, another walk! The week before I had pretty much gone as far northeast as I could. This week I went pretty much 90 degrees the other direction; almost due south! I can't go southwest as that part of Snowdonia is closed. I hadn't walked in that direction, along Cefn yr Orsedd, for a fair while. About time to do it again! And it was a hot day. I got rather sweaty! But it was lovely. You start out with nice views over the northern end of Nant Ffrancon. And when you cross over to the other side, you end up on Mynydd Du with views over Cwm Llafar, where I had been in there only in February!

It's a pity we can't use these gorgeous days for long walks but the mountains will be patient...

View into Nant Ffrancon from Cefn yr Orsedd

Pretty stream

Ominous skies in the distance

14 May 2020

New culinary adventures

If you spend every day at home you can do some cooking! And when you are supposed to only shop once a week you are sometimes left with some unlikely foodstuffs to cook up. So this is the time for some experimentation! I had already tried pizza, with very satisfactory results. The next experiment was mackerel chowder. I don’t normally eat that! I eat vegetarian. But our lovely parking lot, where I have been buying flour and dairy, hosts a local fisherman who sells his wares, and I wanted to support that. So one day I went and bought some smoked mackerel. But what to do with it? I had some on bread. Nice! And the rest went into an experiment: mackerel chowder. I had never made anything like it! And it was open for improvement; the potatoes were a bit hard and I should have put all the mackerel in for more taste. I'll go back for more one of these days! And then try again.

Another experiment was: aubergine curry. I had an aubergine and decided to go adventurous! I found an easy recipe and it was great. That's a keeper too! I don't tend to bother with Indian-style food as it's too complicated and often requires a lot of spices, but this recipe was a doddle. What's next? I'm enjoying this!

Aubergine curry!

13 May 2020

Vegetable update

I thought it was time for an update! I moved the peas, courgettes and butternut squash outside weeks ago, and since then I haven't said how they are faring. And I think I should!

The actual moving killed one courgette plant. Its stem snapped and it died. But that meant there were many left! Then I found out the next most dangerous thing was the neighbourhood cats. They like the nice soft earth! It's a first class cat litter tray. And when they bury their fertiliser they might claw and the seedlings or bury them. Several got uprooted or buried! So these were the next deaths. The slugs had a go at the courgette plants but not to particularly lethal effect.

In the meantime, they all grew nicely. The peas needed tying to their sticks as they couldn't find them independently soon enough. And then after they would curl their appendages around the sticks I could take the bits of string off. And I did some regular watering as the weather was very dry.

I now have eight courgette plants left and six butternut squashes! And I lost only one pea plant but I still have two of them living indoors. So success, I think!

And the newer batch? Well, my cabbage and carrots are starting to have real leaves! The aubergines are lagging a bit. The leeks are not playing ball.

So will I have a meal from my own garden? And when? Stay tuned...

One of the courgette plants 

The peas

A butternut squash plant

The carrots

12 May 2020

Media during lockdown

Lockdown trickles into many aspects of life! In normal life, I do a fair amount of listening to the radio, and I buy the Saturday newspaper every week. It takes me about a week to read it so it works out quite well. And does that still hold? It does! But still it's different.

The newspaper is a lot thinner than usual these days. The travel section is now minute and incorporated into the main section. For obvious reasons. Funnily enough, 'the Guide' seems the normal size, even though all cinemas and theatres and art galleries are closed, and TV is probably even more of a collection of repeats than radio is. The main paper is mainly about Covid-19. Also for obvious reasons! I still manage on one paper per week though. I suppose I read less. And the most surprising thing is: I now read the sports section! I normally don't. It tends to be all about people kicking or whacking a ball around (and then some moving fast in various ways, and several sports that still aren't covered by these wide definitions) and that doesn't interest me. But now it's about the societal role of sport. What is society like if it's not there? Do people miss it and if so, how much and why? What do they replace it with? What sport is still going and should it? Is it justified to slag off footballers for their big wages, now that the contrast with medical staff has come into such sharp focus? How do the various clubs deal with the current situation; does the burden get spread?

The radio is different too. Most gets to my house straight from someone's spare room! And live interviews tend to involve a window and a microphone on a rather long stick. It is a bit restricted, and the sound quality has suffered. We all hear people cutting out for a bit in video calls; now we hear that on the radio too. And the place is full of repeats! Understandably. And I often only half listen to the radio while I'm doing something else; in that sense, it's quite convenient everything gets repeated. If I hear it three times I may have actually heard the whole thing!

As I now work full time on my laptop I have also shifted my attention to my CD collection. I am still in a bit of a music limbo with no satisfactory solution for playing music. My laptop tends to stay in the office! I don't want to bring it down to double as a stereo. But given that I spend a lot of time with it I now am using it for playing music after all. Mainly when I am doing a task that allows listening to something but not focussing on it. I have been pulling lots of CD's into my iTunes library. And now I can listen to them at my leisure! It's been a lot of Tori Amos.

When lockdown lifts, will all of this go back to as before? I suppose the newspapers and the radio will get back to normal. I might still listen to a bit more of my music for a while. But one day I should sort out the music situation. I've been dragged into the 21st century so I should manage that!

The travel section: one page, staying close to home 

11 May 2020

Lockdown weight

If I commuted by bike, which I generally did, I would cover 19 miles and some 460 vertical meters on a day. That keeps you fit! So when I could no longer go to work, and was forced to spend almost all day particularly close to my fridge, I realised I could end up a bit of a lockdown blob. No exercise, all food! And I didn't want that to happen. I want to come out of this as I went in, or better. So I turned to running to keep my fitness up. And I found I ended up having dinner earlier, which is great, as I think it's healthier. But I wasn't reassured. And my house had come with scales. The previous owner had left them! And I had pretty much ignored them. But now I decided to dust them off. Let's keep an eye on this.

Soon after the start of lockdown I weighed myself for the first time. And then it became a habit. I had to get it a new battery as it was low; it even switched to imperial units without me requesting that out of sheer lack of power. But with a new battery it agreed to go back to metric.

I don't know how well-calibrated this thing is. But it gives reasonable readings! I'll go with the assumptions it works OK. It shows rather large fluctuations; larger than I expected, but I suppose that with my tea drinking habit my weight fluctuates more than that of most. And I try to weigh myself at the same stage in the day to avoid that effect; I really shouldn't sometimes weigh myself just before a meal and sometimes just after; not so much for the meal, but because most of my meals come with two liters of water. I started out a bit random and can't remember what time I weighed myself then so I should take these measurements out of the analysis really.

So what did it tell me? So far, so good! As I write this, I have been on a trajectory of losing 40g per day in the period since 8 days into the lockdown period. The r2 is 0.2. If I use the two initial measurements the drop is 80g/day with an r2 of 0.57. That looks robust! But one has to be cautious, making robustness with less-than-reliable measurements is a fallacy. But either way, the trend is down, so it seems to be OK. And if the trend turns? An r2 of 0.2 means anything goes. Well, then I'll have to start actively minding what I eat! That's the time-efficient way of dealing with that. More running would be nice but I also have a job to do. I'll keep an eye on this!

10 May 2020

Preparing for post-lockdown

We've been in lockdown now for six weeks. I thought that would feel like an eternity! And it somehow does, while also feeling like five minutes. But however long it feels: it will end one day. And we don't know yet what will take its place. Not the situation as it was before; that much is clear. We can make some educated guesses based on what other countries are doing. And several countries are going the face mask way. We very well might too! And I don't expect that to be medical grade masks; there's not enough of these going around for actual medical personnel. I expect that improvised masks will do. And I had decided I could turn handkerchiefs into face masks. But I also decided to buy a custom-made one. A local lady makes them and it's nice to support the local economy! So now I have the ultimate 2020 look. If they make these things compulsory I have something to start with!

09 May 2020

First restricted walk

Since the rules got tightened I had only run! But sometimes a walk is nice. So on the second restricted Sunday I decided to do a variation on the walk I had done with Chris not too long before. We had gone to the top of Moel Wnion and then back. This time I wanted to walk around. That's 12k so should count as a reasonable walk. And it was fine walking weather: cloudy so not too hot, but not raining. And it was nice! I was in a pensive mood. The empty landscapes seemed to fit that.Within the restrictions you can still see lovely landscapes!

Windswept trees above the sea

My 'how does my phone work?' face, and Aber Falls in the background

This looked decidedly manmade

Another dramatic tree along the way

08 May 2020

Starting to make the front of the house look good

When I bought the house, it had lots of potted plants in front of the house. Or rather, lots of pots. The plants had got a bit neglected. And in the first, very dry, summer, more died. And weeds reclaimed the space. It looked a right mess. And I had always wanted to do something about that, but it had never got to the top of the to do list. But to do lists look different these days.

I had made a start with a plant bought the previous year. And then one day I popped to the local farm shop which also sells plants. In addition to my fruit and veg I bought a Hebe! And then the Hebe had to go somewhere. And when I was at it anyway I removed some voluminous weeds. And I took some pretty flowers growing in an arbitrary corner of the garden and put them in a pot that only had weed.

When I ordered mushrooms anyway I ordered a plant to go with it. And there was one plant in the garden that seems to be a bit outcompeted by its neighbour. Maybe it wanted to move? Things were starting to take shape.

I also ordered flower seeds. Maybe I could grow some more decorative vegetation from scratch? And one lockdown Saturday I sowed it. I kept the pots in the conservatory; I didn't want the neighbourhood cats to think I had made them two more nice toilets. They already think my veg bed in the back garden is one! That's bad enough as far as I am concerned. So let's hope the flowers come up and I can move them to the front of the house. And there is still quite a lot of pots awaiting their turn in this process that is expected to be rather gradual.

Work is clearly still ongoing, but I think it's already looking a lot better! I can't say I have a natural eye for garden design, or talent for keeping plants alive, but I'm doing my best..

Work in progress

07 May 2020

Grow mushrooms (and some more veg)

When I one day went to the local shop and there were no mushrooms, I was a bit disappointed. I like mushrooms! I think they're a vegetarian's friend as they give a nice earthy taste to dishes that otherwise could be a bit too vegetable-ish. I know some vegetarians don't like mushrooms but I'm certainly not one of them. But if lockdown might mean I couldn't buy them anymore I needed to think of something else! And I might have been a bit pessimistic, as there is another shop in town (which I have also seen having run out of mushrooms, though) and there is also the farm shop (which tends to stock mushrooms too). But I like the idea of growing my own stuff anyway, so I decided to extend that to mushrooms. So I ordered two grow-your-own sets! And it took a while for them to get to me, probably due to lockdown-type home delivery waiting lists, but they go there.

I looked them up and down. What to do with this? Then I saw some instructions on the side and followed these up for the one set. I figured I'd do one at the time! Only after I had done that I noticed there were more detailed instructions inside. Oh dear. They were structurally different. Oh well; we'll see if this works. I put the whole thing in the conservatory; it seems to need warmth to get started. And once that's done I'll move it to either kitchen or storage space! Nice and cool and dark and rather constant in temperature. Let's hope I haven't buggered it up now. I think not; I expect mushrooms to not be too picky about their circumstances.

My acquisitions

In the meantime, quite a lot of my carrots and most of my cabbages have come up! So more success. There is still no sign of leek and only a weep-worthy amount of spinach. And not much progress yet on the aubergine front but that might just take a while. No sign of actual food yet but progress is made! I have faith that I will manage to grow at least a few meals' worth of food this season...

Spinach on the top shelf, carrots in the middle and cabbage on the lowest shelf

06 May 2020

Bread baking goes on

I always bought all my bread baking ingredients in the local food co-op. But that’s been closed for weeks! And as explained before, you can’t get flour in the local shops. The local (closed) pizza place came to the flour rescue. And a week after they sold their stock, they were back to sell flour especially ordered! They could get 35 kg bags from their suppliers, and just sell it on per kilo. And this time they had wholemeal! So my flour stock was fine again for the foreseeable future.

I tend to also put sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and wheat grains in, and sometimes poppy seed. All of that from the food coop. But now I’ve ordered what I could online. And it arrived! So now I have more sunflower seeds, wheat grains and poppy seeds than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately no pumpkin seeds. But I’ll manage without. I’ll have my usual grainy bread now! I expect the situation to have already changed quite a bit by the time this stash runs out...

05 May 2020

Second wave of marking

If we have a module that includes an essay and a presentation, we tend to do the latter first. Then when students get questions afterwards that give them new ideas, they can still incorporate them into their essay. But with the pandemic hitting towards the end of the semester, just the sort of time when such assessments were due, things changed. Students could still upload essays when face-to-face teaching was suspended, but presentations were suddenly off the cards. We had to think of something else. Have the students record their presentations? Have them provide notes? However we would sort it, we would have to give the students time to adjust. They had been preparing for delivery in person. And the suspension of face-to-face teaching came on rather short notice! So all presentation deadlines were moved back. And these deadlines ended all in pretty much the same period. Generally, on top of deadlines that had already been in position. That was OK for the students as they were from all different years. No student had several deadlines on the same day! But for us staff, they all came at the same time. So hence me taking a day off before that tidal wave would hit.

In addition to these postponed presentation deadlines, we had the dissertation deadline that had moved less; this now fell in the same week. And then there were the exams. The undergraduates have their exams in May, but the postgraduates do them earlier. So my postgraduate exam fell between the deadlines for dissertation presentation and dissertation itself! So enough to do. 

In a way, this was made easier by the weather turning, and it not being too much of a pity to be sitting in my office. The day of the deadline for dissertation talks I spent quite some time answering student questions, but soon after the marking was well on its way. Let’s see how much I can get out of the way before the undergraduate exams come in. And when that’s done too it will be time to prepare for academic year 2020/21. Probably the weirdest academic year I’ll ever witness! 

04 May 2020

Buddleia: 0, view: 1

There is a buddleia growing in front of my conservatory. It does what buddleias do, and grows like the clappers. And that means I don't have a view into the garden from the conservatory. And I think conservatories are for views! I had been cutting it back every five minutes (at least it felt like that) every spring and summer. And I decided I was going to be rigorous now. I didn't take my secateurs; I took the saw. And sawed off whatever I could reach! And now I have a view again! And I've grown my compost heap. And I have a tiny bit of firewood. Success!

I know insects like these shrubs, and I know I have been at loggerheads with them before, but there still is the huge one next to my bins, and the sizeable one next to where I park. I'm sure the insects will know where to find these!

Not much of a view! 
Work in progress


03 May 2020

Clear the brambles ahead of the knotweed

My battle with the knotweed is ongoing! I intend to repair my injector before the autumn and then do another round of poison injection. I know that assumes uncharacteristic success with mechanical repair, but one has to be optimistic. But the job tends to be unpleasant; the crawling around and injecting stuff isn't much fun on the best of days, but the wrestling through brambles while doing it makes it even less enjoyable. So I decided to go in and get rid of as much of the stuff as I reasonably could while it was still spring and the going was still relatively good. The growth gets a lot thicker later on! So one sunny afternoon I grabbed my gloves and secateurs and set to work. I managed to remove a lot! And when I was at in anyway, I also tackled stinging nettles, and Himalayan balsam as it's also invasive, tries to colonise my garden, and smells unpleasant. A lot done! But it was clear it needed another round.

A week later I went back and removed most of what was left. I certainly did not remove all, and of course it will grow back, but I'm sure I have removed quite a significant amount of time's worth of bramble growth. (And quite some balsam.) So so far so good! Now I need to get that injector going again. I hope I can do that! And if not? Maybe buy another one I suppose, and hope it lasts a bit longer. Having it done professionally must be a heck of a lot more expensive. But it might have to be done! We'll see. At least now we have a river bank that's fairly comfortable to negotiate. And that may come in handy if we get another heatwave this summer, and I'll be wanting to cool off in the river

Bramble in front of a knotweed stalk 

The riverbank now

The pile of bramble cuttings