31 July 2020

In the Netherlands

When I got to my mother’s place, all seemed normal! People were doing their usual thing. And she had a rollator (that word seems to exist in US English so I’m just using it here too) and that was new, since her fall in spring, but that was only a practical issue. And her place is suitable for pottering around, assisted by wheels! Quite unlike mine. 

In the late afternoon we went into the garden for a drink and one of her friends joined us. And people popped by for a chat! Such a contrast with Wales where restrictions are still considerable. We can meet in gardens too but not like that! Although maybe all these people count as one household. In a way. 

I later had a clever idea. My mother doesn’t cook, but she enjoyed my food when she was visiting me, so I offered to cook for her! She accepted. And invited a friend. It was good!  

Beautiful old building in Amersfoort city centre

Evening scene with the river Eem and some poetry

The next day I went to see my sister and her family. Two of the kids had just been on music camp, and the whole family would go on holiday the day after. So there was a small window in which I could see them all! And it would be a busy window in which they needed to finish packing, wash the camp clothes, eat all the perishable foods, move the plants, etc etc. But I was sure I could make myself useful!

In between the packing we caught up. The music camp had been good! And they all had come through lockdown well. I suppose the combination of the kids being teenagers, and lockdown not being very strict, made it quite doable. And it was a special summer: the last time they would be a family of five! Offspring number one will be off to university. 

I also met the cat for the first time! During my last trip I had seen my sister and her family only away from their home, so she had already been established but we hadn’t been introduced. She is super cute! 

The cat

When I got back to my mum’s I realised my crocs had accidentally been caught up in all the packing! Oh dear. I wear them every day. And on a lockdown working day, it’s all footwear I wear all day except my running shoes. I really want to have a pair! So I made sure to buy a new pair. They may be reviled but I don’t care! 

When I visited my dad and his wife we went for a nice sunny walk! And I got a health update; there had been mention of glaucoma but my dad didn’t turn out to actually have that. He had new glasses now and was good to go! And they were pondering holiday options. A spring trip had fallen through and they were thinking about an alternative. 

Sunny tea break during walk with dad and stepmum

The Essenburgh: a nice castle we walked past

I also went to Amsterdam to see Roelof! And Micha. They were also pondering a holiday. With the abrupt change in travel restrictions between the UK and Spain Roelof was a bit hesitant. That could happen between the Netherlands and his destination of choice too! It’s a strange time. But even though they live in a capital city, in an apartment, they had come through lockdown ok too. Fortunately! 

The Zeedijk in Amsterdam

Some things are not normal: this is the main passage under Amsterdam Central Station at 8:18 on a Tuesday. It's not supposed to like like that... 

I had hoped to see Monique too, but she had just had a Corona test and she didn’t receive anyone until a negative result had come back. And that happened before I left the country, but still a bit late to go see her. Next time! 

So when will next time be? No idea! The orders between the Netherlands and the UK are currently open, but all over Europe there have been outbreaks and new lockdowns and whatnot. I’m glad I’ve been in this short time it was uncomplicated! But I will do some expectation management regarding any trips later this year...

Evening view from a Dutch train

30 July 2020

First post-lockdown trip to Netherlands: getting there

The quarantine rules had been lifted on both sides of the border! And my mum wasn’t worried about guests from the UK. So I booked a trip. It would be a bit weird, after spending weeks with 5 miles of my house, and months within some 10 miles of it. But I wanted to see her!

I had decided to fly. That way I would only spend about an hour in a metal tube with strangers! Rather than the countless many associated with travelling by train. And I later realised too that you’re supposed to wear a face mask in a train. And then you can’t eat or drink! I’m sure they are a bit flexible with it; you have to wear a face mask in a plane too, but they do serve drinks. How that combines is anybody’s guess. So I suppose that if you travel really large distances by train, it doesn’t mean you have to manage without sustenance. But ideal it is not. 

Anyway. I managed to get everything I really needed to have done before I would leave done the day before, and did home preparations too: all plants had to leave the conservatory. If the weather would get warm, it would get so hot in there the plants wouldn’t cope with not being watered for five days. So they all moved to cooler parts of the house! And I packed. 

One Friday morning early I drove off, in my car with its fresh MOT. The KLM didn’t do afternoon flights anymore! I got to the airport without issues. I popped my mask on and went into the terminal. It was quiet there! And all went according to plan. I was a bit wary of the people who wore their face mask over their mouths but not their noses (I think some 5-10% of the people) but what can you do. In the plane I had a row of three seats to myself!

When I got to my mum’s shared front door (she lives in some collective for the over 50s with shared garden and shared coffee room) there was a lady just leaving. She greeted me cheerfully! That reassured me, as I hadn’t been to sure of a whole community of mostly elderly people welcoming someone who had clearly come from the European country with the most deaths, and who must have spent some time in an enclosed space with strangers for a while in order to get there. But it was clearly not seen as an issue. I had made it! First visit in seven months. Time to drink tea with my mum! And then with lots of other people too...

Approaching Amersfoort station

29 July 2020

Teaching admin in strange order

We have some two months left and then term starts. And there is so much to prepare! And not just for us; for everybody else too. The Learning Technology team had already had to roll out the new version of Blackboard, the virtual learning environment we use; now they have to roll out a few more bells and whistles as we’ll be needing a lot more virtuality than normal. And timetabling has to get timetables ready, without quite knowing what the Covid-19 situation will be by the time we start teaching. And the ‘gazette’; the online information database for modules, needs to be made. Et cetera! But it means that in the entire university, everyone is preparing for things, and documenting things, before really knowing enough about what exactly we are preparing for. It’s unavoidable! 

I had a busy time; I had requested a ‘demo’ Blackboard site for my dissertation module, and I had to get that ready as as soon as central administration enrols the students onto it, I want it to go live. The module has already started, after all! And I had had to file my timetabling requests. And I had to document what exact shape my modules would take (what sort of teaching, what sort of assessments, what deadlines, etc etc), even though I will need these two months to make that happen. And I had to fill the forms in how the module had been done the previous year, and how I intended to make changes to improve on that year. A lot of work! In an ideal world, you would first have enough time to think the module through, and only then do this kind of admin. But what can I say; we are currently most certainly not living in an ideal world. And we are all going to have to make decisions now, and just work with what we have decided later! I’m sure it will work out...

28 July 2020

2020 fashion

Britain started late with measures. Any measures. Including the use of face masks. I didn’t buy one until May! And I went for a neutral grey one. But then time moved on and the situation did too, and I realised I needed to step up my game. I needed more of these things! When all is as it was during strict lockdown, one face mask will do. For that one trip to the shop per week! But with much more freedom came the need to still be safe. I have already mentioned sharing a car! So I looked up more local producers, and ordered some more. If I can avoid single use masks at all, I will! And I also try to avoid factory-made ones. So I tried to have a little shopping fun! Trying to get some look that would make the places I go look a bit more cheerful. Or colourful. Or Welsh. Or politically ok. So here is my own little fashion show! I am an untrained model but I think the masks come out ok...

27 July 2020

Welcome Week preparations - but how?

Normally, organising the Welcome Week is rather straightforward. We tend not to make huge changes from year to year. And there are centrally organised events we can just sail along with; for instance, there always is a big fair where all clubs and societies present themselves to the freshers. But this year, all will be different! 

Last year we had some 200 freshers. This year it will likely be fewer, but still so many that it will be difficult to do anything with all of them at the same time. Normally there is a beach trip and a pirate night and whatnot. But now? 

It is still not quite clear what we can do indoors. And what we can do outdoors will depend a bit on the weather. And we won’t know about that until we get there! 

It’s inevitable some of the week will have to be digital; I’ve heard the welcome by the Vice-Chancellor will be online, and the clubs and societies fair, and the presentations by bodies like the sustainability unit. It’s unavoidable, but we try to not do a Zoom overload. Sitting in your room in halls staring at a computer screen just doesn’t convey that sense of occasion! Or of social bonding. So we need some of it but whatever we can avoid would be great. 

It’s quite a challenge to sort this stuff out, but it’s important; Welcome Week tends to be quite pivotal in the life of anyone who has gone to university. We should do what we can to make it memorable while still keeping it safe! I’m glad we have in our midst the Peer Guide of the Year 2019-2020. She wouldn’t have won that accolade if she weren’t quite on the ball! So I’m worried about it all, but I would be a lot more worried if we wouldn’t have such stellar people! 

26 July 2020

Start making a virtual fieldtrip

Fieldwork is one of the things with which Ocean Sciences distinguishes itself! We like taking the students on the Ocean Sciences research vessel, and onto mudflats, and into glacial valleys, and many other places. But we can't, now! We had to truncate the fieldwork season when the pandemic struck. And next year? 

We have moved all fieldwork-heavy modules to the second semester. The practical-heavy ones too, but that's not what this blog is about. We hope that by then, things have got better and we can just move students around in buses without having to worry about it. Not sure if that will really happen but I hope so. 

I have several modules in the first semester. One of them has a day in the field. That one day wasn't enough for the School to move the module back! But I needed to do something with it. We would have some 50 students; I thought the chance would be close to zero we could do that trip. So what then? I figured it should be possible to have a virtual field trip. Just go there, do the spiel there, document all data sites, give the students the data, and hope they got enough of a feel for the site. That would involve filming and a lot of video editing, but that's OK; we have technical support for that.  

I picked a nice dry day for it. And it evidently was after Snowdonia had reopened! Otherwise I couldn't have gone. But that meant it would be busy. The parking lot we needed gives regularly updates on whether it's full or not, but they only start at 8AM. And then they're full in times like these. So I had suggested meeting there at 7. That should be OK, right? Well no, it wasn't. That's the disadvantage of a day with good weather I suppose. Long story short: that place was quite full at 6:30 already, but with a bit of a parking-related delay we could start collecting footage. 

The way to the parking lot if you didn't find a parking spot there

I did a bit of a spiel at the gate to the miner's track. And every time we passed a rock with either what the trip was about (glacial striations) or anything that could be mistaken for them, I did another little spiel. And then the lake where the real action takes place came into view! I did my general spiel, and then I had to find all locations the students had taken measurements the previous year. I wrote a north arrow on all locations, and the site number, with chalk. And the photographer then photographed them.  There were twelve locations so it was a bit of a job! And finding out exactly what blob of rock was a location was a bit of a puzzle. But I did it. 

I suppose the north arrow and location number only show up in full screen mode

At some point I sat down with coffee and a sarnie. It was a nice day and I enjoyed that! I had feared it would be searing hot but it wasn't; it was jumper-and-jacket weather the entire time. Which suited me fine. And a view on Llyn Llydaw, and Lliwedd looming behind it, is an excellent backdrop for coffee and sarnies! 

My break view - could be worse

It was done around noon. I had had no idea how long it would take. This was OK as far as I was concerned! And now basically my work on this is done. I will now await the photographer presenting the (preliminary) results. I hope it will work out! 

25 July 2020

Car worries

When my car wouldn't start while parked on Kate's drive I was worried! I would be needing that thing. Travel was allowed again! So the next morning I phoned a nearby garage as soon as they opened. They told me to bring it up. And it started so I could! The garage holder thought it was OK. And checked the battery. That wasn't particularly full but not anywhere near empty. OK! Well I'll chance it. I know now approximately what to do if it refuses to start again. But my MOT was coming up in about a month so I booked it in immediately. They suggested the day after! That wasn't possible but I brought it in the day after that. 

It needed two new tyres and a new shock absorber. But not a new starter engine! Let's just keep an eye on this. A car's not worth much if it doesn't start! 

This, however, has also spelled another change. Since I moved to Wales I've been going to a garage in Menai Bridge. That's where I used to live, and it was opposite work. So easy to drop it off in the morning and pick it up around six! And because it was so close to work I kept going there, even after moving to Bethesda. But things have changed. I rarely go to Menai Bridge now! And going to that garage has now become logistically impractical. So I now made the move! I feel a bit bad but I'm sure the other garage understands. So now it'll be up to Bethesda to look after my car! 

The garage had parked my car in the old parking lot of the Spar that closed a few years ago. They use it as the 'overflow car park'. This is how you get from the garage to that car park... 

24 July 2020

First epic post-lockdown Rhinogydd walk

The first weekend I could go wherever, I went nowhere. But the second weekend I took the opportunity to go and see my friend Kate! And we would go for a walk. She suggested the Rhinogydd; I thought that was a good idea, as I had been only once, on a Swamphike, and she hadn't been at all. It's a bit of a drive but hey, we finally could again! 

She suggested we might want to share a car. Crikey! I hadn't done that in months. But she has a sizeable car, and as well, air pollution make some more susceptible to Covid, so avoiding unnecessary fuel burning is quite topical these days. And will the exhaust fumes get diluted in the wide rural air here? Well yes. But still. I drove to her place; the first time I got there! I could immediately see what had attracted her to the place. She couldn't show me in the inside but that will come some day in the future. For now I admired the outside, and then we both donned masks, got into her car (me in the back), she opened the windows, and we were good to go. 

It was a bit of a drive! Especially as we approached the hills from the west, while coming from the east. When we got close we saw a sign 'parking lot closed due to Covid'. Oh dear! But it wasn't true. We parked and got ready. I saw we had camped right here during the swamphike! But for now we would go off in the opposite direction. Onwards to the Roman steps. 

Close to the start

The Roman steps! (Which aren't Roman)

We got over the steps and to the top of Rhinog Fawr. We didn't do any summits during the swamp hikes due to the combination of big bags and high winds. Now we would make up for it! We enjoyed the views from Rhinog fawr (and some lunch) and then made our way done. It was challenging going, down steep slopes and over scree slopes and whatnot. And then through a swamp, and then up Rhinog Fach! Another summit. But by then, most of the afternoon was already gone. So from there we just stomped back. Coming down Rhinog Fach was again a fair amount of carefully picking your way down a steep slope with lots of loose rocks. By the time we were down we had done enough of that! Luckily, we were soon on a clear path, on which we did a small detour to the white waterfall, and then back over the Roman steps. It had been a long day! 

Lovely lake

On top of Rhinog Fawr. Pic by Kate

A gorge we descended. Pic by Kate

Descending Rhinog Fach

Almost back!

We drove back. By the time I got to Kate's it was 8.30 or something and I was getting hungry. I didn't linger; I got into the car and started the engine. Or tried to. Oh dear. It made very scary sounds! And didn't start. Kate knows more about cars than me. She suspected problems with the starter engine. To be honest, so did I. This wasn't a battery issue! We tried and tried and tried and then gave up and phoned the AA. Kate made me a cup of tea and heated some pasta bake up for me. That was very kind! I needed some food by then. And then the AA came. And of course, the car started in his hands. Tsk! Always like that. But the funny thing was he recognised me, and remembered my Citroen! That had once had a flat battery and he had sorted that (now I know the neighbour has a gadget for that, and maybe I should have one myself). But anyway; I could go home now! And I did. It had been a long day! But it had been good. It's nice we can do things like this again! I expect we might soon even have several households together, and/or go inside people's houses... 

23 July 2020

Welsh qualification passed!

I did it again! I passed another qualification. After Welsh in the Workplace 6 I have now passed 7. As the first person in the entire university, as far as I know! I had spent some time on it in May, recording conversations, and doing a written exam. In June I completed it with a last conversation and then a rounding-up chat with the tutor. And now I have got my results: I passed! With distinction. 

I also got feedback. It wasn't too unexpected what I still had got wrong! Some mutations (Welsh nouns, adjectives and adverbs change their first letter depending on the context), some spurious use of the article (you can't use many; something like 'the bike of the neighbour of the baker' could only have one 'the' in Welsh), some not remembering whether a word is feminine or masculine, and some other stuff. I'll try to improve these things!

I suspect they might now design a 'WitWP 8'. We'll see! And if they do, I'll attempt it! But I suppose the real test will come soon...

22 July 2020

Running into the limits of my laptop

I had managed all my work on my old laptop so far! When the University closed, we were told not to take our desktops home. So I didn't. My laptop does work. And I did manage to record lectures, with capture of my face and all. But then there was accessibility. We want everybody to be able to do Ocean Sciences! Well, within reason, of course. We want to be able to teach people with visual, hearing and mobility impairments, and all other physical impairments I can't currently think of too. And, of course, all mental challenges, but that's not what this post is for. Anyway; by the time students are deaf and blind and in a wheelchair I suppose it becomes a bit beyond our skill set, and beyond what we have experienced, but you get the gist. So if we teach we want to have both visual and auditory material. And for lectures, that means we always publish our lecture slides. But ideally, we would have a transcript. And when we record everything anyway, we may as well just produce a transcript on the go. Software can do that! And you can even make it swap language. 

I had recorded the first two short lectures without transcript as there had been enough to think about already, with me already having to get the newer version of Office. But then I decided I should step up my game. And looked for the 'dictate' button. I now had Office 365 and that can do it. But no! It wasn't there. A bit of light googling revealed you need at least Windows 10 for that, and my laptop runs on 8.1 (yes really). So that didn't work! And Word can do it too. A colleague suggested I just run the recording and let Word listen in. But no luck there either. I suspect it's the same with Word: it cannot do this in too old an operating system. But I will not change my operating system. That is too thorough a change! I won't do that unless I have support, and the university does not support private computers. So that was a no-no. 

So then what? I contacted IT. Maybe they had a laptop lying around? And I wasn't surprised to hear they didn't. I have no idea what percentage of staff has a desktop but I guess it's high. They must have had loads of requests! But the IT person suggested I arrange to go into the office, take the computer, bring it to him (he would have to be in the office; no idea if that's the default these days or not), and then he would make it home-compatible. And then I could take it home. And then I would have a newer version of Windows and all would be possible! 

That option sounded like a good one but it did make me ponder. Then I really couldn't go back to the office! Not until I would go back fulltime. What good is an office without a computer. I had hoped to do a bit of both at some point! But well, it was this or bust I suppose. Home office, I am here to stay! I would also be tempted to bring some furniture so I could have a more ergonomic space here. There is enough! Not quite sure how easily that would fit into my little car. Maybe borrow a School vehicle? I'll have to ponder that. 

Later, I checked if perhaps I could use Panopto to record with webcam. And that didn't work. My Panopto couldn't find my Powerpoint. I couldn't troubleshoot my way out of that, and as I said, the helpdesk would not be able to do anything. So I suppose that seals the deal. And I hope I can get a university webcam with the computer as I need one, and I  think I have spent enough money on my home office, buying a chair and peripherals. Time for the university to pitch in! And they buy them in bulk so they'd get them cheaper... 

Nope, no more Powerpoint via Panopto for a while!

21 July 2020

Bethesda 200 years

Was Bethesda (Pesda for locals) founded in 1820? Hard to tell! The town is named after Bethesda Chapel. That was established in 1820. And the town grew around it. The census suggests there was an 1840s building boom, and I think my house was part of it. I'm not sure you can really precisely date the birth of a town! But the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW) state that an early building boom was indeed in the 1920s. That would make the town roughly 200 years old now! Not even very old, really. But still worth a celebration! And so there was a bit of a buzz on the Bethesda Facebook page.

There were plans for a mural. I liked the designs! But it seems that project has been put on hold a bit. But an enterprising resident started selling commemorative clocks. And I liked them! So I ordered one. It's a basic clock mechanism fixed to a slate tile. And it's not Penrhyn slate! So not really Bethesda. But well, what can you do. I liked it anyway! And the proceedings went to a local charity. Sorted!

I don't know to what extent the town can celebrate this year! But I like pondering the origins of what is now my home. And I like that my house has been part of the history of town for most of these 200 years!

20 July 2020

Guardian dragon

I sat in my office and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Some people from Neuadd Ogwen were carrying a gate. And they threw it in a skip! That skip had been put there and the Neuadd Ogwen people had warned me about it. They were doing a sort of spring clean in there. And now they were getting rid of this old gate.

I recognised it; it was the gate of the Victoria hotel. It's just around the corner. And not too long ago, the hall had acquired it. So the gate was theirs to discard! But it was an ornate gate. It had two silhouettes of the head if Victoria, and a 3D dragon to top it all off. And I had always liked that dragon! I had noticed it often, walking past, on my way to the shop. And now it was in a skip. That is a pity! I decided to act.

I fetched some spanners and checked if the nuts came off. They did! So in a few minutes I had myself a dragon. Cool! I think it should stay in Bethesda. I don't know yet where I'll put it; it should be near the front door methinks. But for now I just put it in the conservatory. And there it stands, guarding over me. A Victorian themed Welsh dragon! I'm sure he'll be excellent company.

Inglorious end in a skip

Now it lives in the conservatory! My pointy-kneed dragon.

19 July 2020

Trying to become ergonomic

After four months of working at home, on my laptop, I was starting to really feel it. My home setup just isn't very ergonomic! My desk has a fixed height. My chair has armrests, and for me to be able to be close to the desk these have to fit under the desk's top. But that means I am sitting rather low. And have to raise my arms in order to use my computer. And you have to reach over the bit with the touch pad to get to the keyboard. And the screen is too low. Altogether it isn't ideal! And you can feel that.

One night I woke up and struggled to fall asleep again. I felt my shoulders! And I decided I needed to act. And the next day I had to venture out anyway, so I decided I should go and buy myself a mouse and keyboard and see if I could improve the situation. In order to avoid over-cluttering my not-so-big desk I went for a wireless set.

I installed these. And put a blanket on my chair to raise me up. And put a little rug down as wrist support. And put the laptop on a thick book, and moved it back. It still wasn't ideal; I could feel that configuration in my back. I suppose the design of the chair means that as soon as you add padding, the back doesn't follow the contours of your back anymore. It's a bit difficult! After a while I decided to alternate the use of my old, hard, armrest-free chair and the soft, armrest-festooned one. I suppose that might help! I need to get this right. We might be at home for months to come. If RSI start regularly affecting my sleep I'm toast!

18 July 2020

Getting ready to record Distance Learning material

We always record our lectures. The idea is that some students might have a valid reason for not being in the lecture room. Illness, for instance. And maybe some students who are physically present might want to listen to the lecture again for revision purposes. But what we record when we do that, is the screen and our voice. So it's not the same as being there! You hear us saying things like 'and on this part of the graph you see this, and here look at this outlier here' and stuff like that, and you know that we are pointing at something but you can't see what. So it does the job if it's just the backup; if it's the main thing it needs to be better!

Now that we will have to do a lot of our teaching online, we have to step up our game. We are encouraged to re-record our lectures, but in a different way; where we also record our faces, and what we are pointing at. You can do that in PowerPoint; it allows you to narrate your talk with your face showing up in the bottom right corner, and you being able to point at things and highlight them and all sorts of things like that. All that gets recorded. So you get much more the total experience! We had asked the students to do just that for their dissertation talks. So when my dissertation module was launched I started with that. But not without difficulty!

I decided to start with a module in which I only have two lectures. I have to learn! And firstly: the first ones will be slowest, and only having to do 100 minutes' worth of it will make it look doable, and secondly; if I get better quickly at this, then the quality difference between the first and last recording will not be so big as when I would have ten 50 minute lectures to convert into short recordings. So let's start there!

The first thing I did was adapt my first partial lecture. We are supposed to record in smaller chunks than normal. And I made sure the bottom right corner was clear. And then I wanted to record it. But there was no 'record presentation' button. Oh dear. I couldn't toggle it on in the options. Hmm.

I googled a bit. It couldn't be done in Office 2010, which was what my computer was running. And it couldn't be done in the online version of Office either! I really needed to download a newer version of Office. Would my computer cope?

I got to Office 365 via the university. But I had to leave the computer to get on with installing overnight! My computer isn't that fast, and neither is my internet. But the next morning I could finish it. It worked! I had Office 365. And now I had two versions of Office. I should uninstall the old version. I don't think I still need that!

Next I needed to try it out. My first attempt resulted in truncated narration. PowerPoint had decided to add timings to the slides. But I figured out how to delete these! And that helped.

I also figured out I could save my narrations as either a slide show or as a movie. The movie is snazzy but the file is two to three times bigger than the slide show! And that again requires leaving my computer to calculate overnight. Not very good for the environment! But so be it.

I think the initial hurdles are taken. I can start producing teaching material now! And there is a lot to make...

17 July 2020

Quarantine lifted: off to mum

Late June, the UK government announced they would stop the quarantine for travel from loads of countries. Unfortunately, this is a health matter and these are devolved. What the Welsh government would do was less clear for a while. Looking it up on the governmental website didn't help; the Welsh one referred to the UK-wide one but the UK-wide one referred straight back to the Welsh one. Until a decision was made! The same rules would apply in Wales. And in the meantime I had looked up what the Dutch rules were. And there, quarantine was not an obligation but a recommendation. So with no law on either side, I could consider travel again! Should I, though? Well! Since you ask...

My main reason for wanting to travel is my mum. She managed to break her hip just before lockdown, and she is still affected by it. I haven't seen her since my Christmas visit! And I asked her about it. I'm confident I'm healthy at the moment; new confirmed infections here in Gwynedd tend to be one or two per day now. It's a big province! But travelling, of course, would mean a lot more being indoors with others than I normally do. My weekly trips to the local supermarket at 7AM are quite low-risk. So I could pick it up along the way and give it to my mum! And then to her neighbours. But she wasn't scared at all. She preferred to see me! Over avoiding the risk. And she said people were in and out all the time, also people with high covid risk. So me there wouldn't make the situation much worse!

So I decided to go. But how? Train or plane? I had just made the swap but I was nervous about being in an enclosed space with strangers for hours and hours and hours. If I fly I can just drive on my own to the airport, probably have lots of space in the terminal, and then only be in close proximity with others for 1:20 hrs. So I went for that! Sorry, environment. I will be back in the train when this has calmed down a bit.

I'll see my mum again! I hope all will go well...

16 July 2020

Five mile rule lifted but still stuck to

On a Monday, we were finally allowed to travel more than five miles by car. But it was a working week! I tend not to travel during the week. But it was busy and I worked much, thereby not getting chores done. And I only managed my short running loop! So when the weekend came, and I was free to go wherever, I stayed home. It wasn't only the chores; the one person I had only seen with great effort for months was Kate, who lives 20 miles away. We had only seen each other if we each got to Capel Curig, as you are free to bike wherever! And then walk together or something. Now we could actually just drive to each other's house. But she was away for work! So that wasn't happening. And the advantage was that now I had the whole weekend for chores and runs. And that was good! I got lots done.

The furthest I got from home was 5 km, on my Lockdown 10k. I ran it in the morning, which is unusual; I tend to use the late afternoon. But I shaved 5 minutes off my personal best without much effort, so it looks like I am a much better morning runner!

The garden also looked a lot better at the end. And I had made space in the conservatory so I can go and sow more veg. Early on I had been wondering if I had been overdoing it, but I am clearly not; I am mostly overfeeding the slugs! Not myself. So I had another try at spinach, and planted some fennel. I hope something comes of that. And there is more space, so next weekend I could add kale and pumpkin! And maybe I would even get more than 5 miles from home then. But if not? No problem! It has been a bit restrictive but I can keep myself amused at home for months...

15 July 2020

Goodbye loganberries

I had been wondering what to do with my berry patch since I bought the house. It was a dense forest with red and black currants, gooseberries, raspberries and loganberries. A bit too dense! And the latter two were a bit imperialist. And they didn't quite pay their way like, say, the gooseberries did. Once they are ripe they go off quickly! So I decided they had to go. And one day I set to work. I managed to dig out a small plant, but the main plant was way too big, way too deeply rooted, and way too sheltered by the black currant shrub. So I mainly just cut off all the stems! And I will have to keep doing that.

I had already cut down some shrubs that got in the way of coming down the stairs or into the shed. But now I really had a big pile of cutoffs! But it was quickly sorted. And I also removed all the weeds and non-descript shrubs that were not berry plants.



When all that was done and the waste removed it looked distinctly different! So empty. But I had plans. I had decided this was an edibles patch anyway; I could as well add to that. I had figured it was time to move my cabbages outside. They seemed to want more space! And I might as well move the carrots too. There was space now! So I did. And I moved a butternut squash plant outside too. I hope they'll be happy there! And not too pleasing to the resident slugs. I'll see! And now I have indoor space where I can plant more. I still have some seed packets I haven't even opened yet. Maybe time for kale and pumpkin?

Now with cabbage and carrots and butternut squash!
An aside; many of my carrots like to make a bit of a spiral... not sure why!

Am I all sorted now? Not sure! The black and red currents are rather intertwined, and I never eat the red currants. The birds always beat me to it! But that's OK. I am not overly keen on them anyway. And it's nice if the birds have a bit of a feast in my garden! So for now they are safe. Enough work on that patch for now...

14 July 2020

Car care at home

I don’t think I filled up my car since February! I’m not a big driver but managing five months with one tank of petrol is unprecedented. I have no problem with not using it much. But I still need to look after it! And when I had dashed to the office to retrieve books, I noticed one of my tyres was a bit soft. Normally I sort that at a gas station, but I didn’t want to be dependent on these, so I bought a foot pump. You get electrical pumps too, of course, but if you can power something with sandwiches instead of electricity, then that has the preference I would say!

So my car got some care. I think I should pay attention to the tyre pressure as it influences fuel efficiency. I should start a habit of checking more often! Although I noticed one disadvantage of the foot pump: it’s very dependent on the weight of the person using it, and I’m not heavy enough to get the front tyres to ‘eco’ pressure... maybe I should be holding my recently purchased bag of sand while working that pump!

13 July 2020

Making your own chocolate spread

I used to buy my chocolate and hazelnut spread in the local wholefoods shop. It's organic and lovely! But the shop closed at the onset of lockdown and has not come back to life yet. And I ran out. And in the local shops here there is a limited assortment of such spreads. Certainly nothing that can match it in quality and morality! So all in the spirit of lockdown home cooking, I thought I'd google if I could make it myself. And I found a recipe and it looked dead simple! So on Saturday I set to work. And it worked! I reduced the amount of sugar in it by half, but otherwise followed the recipe. It pretty much is chocolate, butter, water and sugar. It was sorted in minutes. And great! I tasted it and figured next time I think I can keep the sugar out altogether. Maybe it is a preservative but for the taste I don't think it's needed. Given how simple it is I can imagine I could experiment a bit! Just make half a batch next time. Without sugar! And see how it goes. I might buy hazelnut spread again (probably much more difficult to make, especially without food processor), but probably not chocolate spread! Too much fun, and too easy, to make yourself...

12 July 2020

Third attempt making the stairs less slippery: a trial

My house, and all that comes with it, is a bit of a strange assemblage. Originally, I think, it was just a typical early Victorian rectangular house. I think it always had several entrances; one main door, at the front; one door a floor lower, right at the street, and one on the side, going into the garden, which ran away from the road and parallel to the river, at the same level as the front door. And then the garden had an outside loo. But things changed. The garage, which was a former public toilet block, was added. And the terrain between the house and the river, which had been a slate yard, and later garages, was bought up and divided between the houses of me and my neighbour. But that meant the house and garden were not very conveniently aligned! And that's the reason why I have a flight of wood stairs and then slate steps down into the garden. And the thing is: these steps get damn slippery when they're wet. And it sometimes is wet in this area. And I don't like falling down stairs. So what to do?

My first attempt was anti-slip tape. It worked a treat! For a while. In the long run, the tape didn't stay put. Then I tried a metal mesh anti-slip step cover. It worked but it collected water, and that meant the metal rusted and I feared the wood would rot. I took it away again. Then one of my more practical friends (one of the Cornish cavers) suggested epoxy with blasting grit in. That sounded good! So when the 'non-essential' shops opened again I went to the local building materials shop and asked if they had that. And they didn't, really; but they did have some other weatherproof adhesive and they had coarse sand. The latter was rather badly sorted so some of it was the right size. I would have to sieve it! And so be it. Yes I can undoubtedly order grit online but this was supporting the local economy, and I can just use the finer fractions for, I don't know, sandbags for in case the river once rises more than I can imagine. The bag was some 23 kg so a bit of a pain to carry home in your arms (backpack too small) but I got there. Step one sorted!

One evening I started sieving. I used my kitchen colander. It didn't really work so well! I first tried dry sieving, basically because I didn't feel like lugging that heavy sand to the riverside. But I had to, as this dry sieving took forever. And wet sieving was a doddle! I had a lot of small gravel in no time. And sand is not pollution. I don't have qualms about adding some sediment to the river! And even though of course that meant I couldn't use the sand for anything else, this was clearly the way.

Dry sieving: bad idea

Wet sieving: good idea!
The next thing was drying the gravel. I had the oven in use the day after anyway, so I put the gravel in oven dishes and shoved it in. Sorted! So then I had to try it. I didn't want to try on the actual stairs, so I got a piece of firewood out of the garage and tried it on that. It had to dry overnight. Would this be the solution to my problem? Watch this space!

The trial!

10 July 2020

First module rebuild: dissertations

It's official now! The dissertation module is moving to the first semester. Not entirely; it sticks out a bit into the second semester. But I have to now make sure I'm ready by September! And that's not a sinecure. For one thing, the students need their topic by the time the module starts. And I need to give them a lot of time! They need to be able to come up with their own titles. And that takes some thinking and reading and discussing with potential supervisors and whatnot. So that needs to be done in summer. Oh dear.

The School has finalised how the modules are distributed. And I had made documentation to reflect that. I've just sent the information out. It was weird! We normally have a lovely module website where all the information is collated. But these are generated centrally, and that happens later in summer. So I don't have a website to direct them to! I have to just put documents on OneDrive, and wherever it is Sway documents live. I really hope it will work out. It's quite something to ask of the students! They should be holidaying right now. Not that that's happening as normal this year. But I ask them to either design or choose a dissertation topic. In my defense; I have been getting emails from students asking for just that. Several are keen to get started! I'll just have to keep a close eye on my mailbox now. Ready to answer questions if they arise! Not that I was not doing that until now. But the stakes have been raised! I can now expect 134 students coping with a really strange start of a very important module!

From the index of my Sway module documentation

09 July 2020

Rare trip to the office

When I packed up my office I thought it would be for three weeks. But we're over three months in and I'd not been back. I brought what I thought I'd need for a few weeks! So when it was clear we were in it for the long haul, I realised I could do with some more stuff. I had several books in the office that I thought I could use for preparing my teaching for the next semester. And our key cards have been disabled; I'm sure they know that when you tell academics they shouldn't go into the office, but you make it physically possible for them to go, they'll go. So we can't get in! If we need to pick something up we need to mail some specific email address and then things get arranged with our head of technical services. So I mailed.

One Monday morning I went. It was weird to be back. The place was dark and empty and full of post-Covid signs. But no one-way system as the building doesn't lend itself to it, with dead-end corridors and such. My office was as I had left it, of course. I got all the books I thought I might use. For good measure, I picked up a mouse too! Let's see if that makes working at home more comfortable.

I don't know when I'll be back next! Within three months, I'm sure; we'll have to sometimes be in the building to prepare for teaching. But when will I be back fulltime? Will I ever?

The building has been prepared!
The books I now have at home

08 July 2020

Conservatory furniture

With all my veg growing exploits (and some flower growing, with mixed success) I was running out of space in the conservatory. Some veg has to live there for reasons of temperature, and some of it I'm worried about for reasons of pests, and some of it is too young to live outside. And some of it I just wonder if it will fit outside. The veg patch is only so big! But I had lots of pots and other containers on the floor and I decided that was not ideal. And I had lots of odd bits of wood in the garage! So I decided to make a table. And I did! The old shelf from my bedroom cupboard became the table top and some leftover bits from my wardrobe conversion and some other project became the legs. After I took the pic I added cross bars out of leftover moulding as the whole thing was a bit wobbly (and I know what that can do). And now I have an improvised table for pots! And that means I have the side table back for tea pots and such things. It had been increasingly invaded by vegetation!

07 July 2020

Blackcurrant compote

I had black currants every summer! But so far I never did anything with them. But this summer I figured that should change. So on a rainy Saturday I went into the garden and picked the berries that looked ripe. It was a reasonable pile! And after cleaning them I just boiled them for a bit and added some sugar. That's all it takes! And I immediately tried some. Success! I like this. There's quite a lot left. And I am sure there's a second batch in it too. I might think of a different thing to do with them!

I probably shouldn't have used a glass bowl on a wood table! But even if it didn't look glamorous it was good.

06 July 2020

Taking stock after lockdown so far

It's the sixth; Wales has no national travel restrictions anymore! Does that mean lockdown is over? Unfortunately, far from it. I'm still working from home. I can't go to the pub or the cinema or any of that. But I can travel any distance now, within the UK. And it's been 15 weeks now; seemed as good a time as any to take stock. So how has it been?

Working at home: I am quite used to that by now, as I'm sure everyone already guessed. I am SO happy I got me an office chair. I do miss popping into other people's offices though, to just talk through things, or ask if they have come across some annoying technical blip you're struggling with, o any such stuff. And the meetings are a bit annoying. People often end up pixellated and sounding like Daleks. And conversations just don't flow as well as when you're all in the same room. The technicalities otherwise work out, in general, although I recently had a bad Sway day when it seemed that both my computer and my internet were extra slow. And I want to pop into the office to do my dissertation allocation as I want to have bigger screens with more excel sheets than I can have at home. And I am starting to feel the not-quite-ergonomicness of my home setup. 

Home growing: in 15 weeks I have not managed much vegetable growing! I know some of my courgette plants are now quite big and growing courgettes, but these are still small and I haven't eaten any yet. (Some small creature has! A mouse?) I have harvested modest amounts of spinach, peas, cabbage and chard; I once managed to have a meal with the greens (except for the tomatoes) all from own ground, but I was in a hurry and didn't take a picture. I hope I can do it again soon, but then better! That meal had less veg than I am used to. The butternut squash and aubergine plants haven't even flowered yet. But I'm learning! There is a lot of summer left. And next year I'll be back with better skills.

Lockdown weight: Although there is some noise in the signal, I quite steadily dropped in weight until I reached a minimum on June 5, to 5 kg below starting weight; then I went back up a kg in two weeks. Since then I have been stable. And I happened to see a second-hand pair of my favourite hiking trousers in a size smaller advertised, and I bought them. They fit like a glove!

Exercise: I still don't bike much and run quite a lot. I had to buy new running shoes as the old ones had worn out! And in my 10k project I seem to have hit a plateau too; the last three times I ran it it took me 65 minutes. I'm sure I can bring that down to 64 but that hasn't happened yet!

My flashy new running shoes

Social life: I have spoken with quite a lot of people who have been struggling a bit with the lack of social contact. And I was glad when we could go for a walk with people again, or receive them in the garden, but it's clear I'm such a grumpy loner these days that even when I can't I'm fine. And that even in lockdown I can enjoy being on my own for a weekend. Who would have thought that in the nineties or noughties! One does change over time.

Altogether I am very glad this epidemic didn't hit years earlier. I now live in a great house with a great garden in great surroundings, and I am in excellent mental health and have learned to be very happy with my own company. And technology means I can do my job at home and have video calls with friends and family. So yes it is likely restrictions won't be entirely lifted for several more months or even years, but I think I'll be fine!

05 July 2020

Double nationality?

Completely out of the blue I saw a post on Facebook. It claimed a law had been proposed that would allow Dutch residents of the UK to get a double nationality in the case of a no deal Brexit. I quickly checked. It was true! And I know that means only conditional things; the law has only been proposed and not yet accepted (and it won't be dealt with for months), and it would only apply for a short time in case of a no-deal crash, but still. If there is a deal, the situation is a lot less uncertain for EU citizens in the UK. And as I'm already aware of it, I can be in the starting blocks were this window to open. As there are only a few months left to strike a deal, the negotiations are at a bit of a standstill, and the entire world seems to be quite absorbed by something entirely different, a no-deal exit is hardly unimaginable.

So do I want a double nationality? Yes please! I put roots down here and I would like to stay here. And then it would be nice to be able to become a citizen. But I'm not ready to give up being Dutch! In a way, the reasons I want to have a British passport are quite similar to the ones I have for wanting to stay Dutch. The Tories have an impressive precedent trying to muscle people out of the country that are not like them. And I know; I am lily-white and non-religious, so I don't carry the 'hate me Tories' tattoos on my forehead, but still. I have a funny accent and am a dreadlocked academic so clearly a leftie and they'd be happier without me. And if I have a passport they can't get rid of me! But at the same time; do I really want to only have a passport of a country like that? This country is broken. And I'm sure it can be mended but I don't know if and when that will happen.

It's very expensive to become British, and it's quite a time investment too, but if we crash out it will probably be worth it! So I'm keeping an eye on the news. And I've already ordered the citizenship test book (but a second-hand specimen). Let's see what sort of trivialities I'll have to know if I go up for the test! And it's a bit dubious (but not unexpected) that this procedure favours those who are good at absorbing information from a book. It works to my advantage, but that doesn't mean it's right! But well, only citizens have the voting power to let their voice be heard about issues like this, so putting up with it may be my best bet to do my incremental bit to improve the situation...

04 July 2020

Fruit season start meets lockdown baking

It's summer! I had already done some snacking on raspberries and loganberries. It's still too early for plums or apples. But the gooseberry bush was full! And I decided do do something with that. I googled 'recipe gooseberry' and found gooseberry clafoutis. That looked good and easy! So I went for it. And it worked! The batter is quite sweet, and that's needed as the gooseberries most certainly are not. I like a bit of a kick in my dessert! I say result. And I have all intentions to go and harvest some black and red currants and some more of the raspberries and loganberries. And then make compote! I can then just buy some yoghurt and I have dessert for a while. It is time I use my fruits a bit more. I had so far only browsed a bit, and not cooked with it. And that's a trick missed!

Lots of fruit!

Finished product